Simon Hughes MP writes…My vote on the Same Sex Marriage Bill

I want to say a few personal words to my party friends and colleagues, straight and gay, after this week’s debates and votes on the same-sex marriage bill.

I voted for the second reading of the bill but abstained at third reading. I tried to make clear my reasons in my three speeches on the bill in February and this week. Please read them carefully. Some of you may be pleased or relieved that some Liberal Democrat MPs, including me, voted for amendments and against third reading or abstained on third reading. You may share our beliefs on this issue or our interpretation of what is taught by our faith.

But I am clear that the majority of party members probably take a different view. And I want to say a few words especially to you.

First, if I have hurt or offended you or made you angry, I am truly sorry. I know how much some of you feel hurt – or really let down or both. I am really, really feeling that. Which is why I want to say a few other things so that some misunderstandings can hopefully be dealt with and some hurt can be healed.

I have been a Liberal and Liberal Democrat for over 40 years. I have rarely been in the minority in our party, but I know too that on many votes and issues in our party and parliamentary party there are dissenting views, and we always try to understand and respect them. On behalf of those of us with a minority party view now, I simply ask that we are given similar understanding on this issue. My record in and out of parliament on equality issues I hope stands up well to scrutiny. With Archy Kirkwood I led for us in the Commons in opposing section 28 – when the Tories supported it and the official Labour position in committee was to abstain. Though I initially wanted it to be 17 for everybody not 16, I always supported an equal age of consent. I have regularly fought privately and publicly for gay people and couples locally, nationally and internationally. And one other very important thing. My local party, our regional, national and federal parties and my own office over the years have been hugely more caring and more effective because of the contribution of the most bright, wonderful and committed gay people, many of whom I have treasured and still treasure as very close friends. I know that, acknowledge that and am proud of that and of them. Not just because of my own personal and political history and sexuality, I feel a personal responsibility to support gay and bisexual people and those struggling with sexuality whenever possible.

I have also been a member of the Christian church for nearly 20 years longer than my membership of our party. Of course Christianity did not establish marriage, or only ever countenance monogamy. Christian marriage ceremonies have not existed everywhere and all the time since the life and death of Jesus, and have only been legally recognised in this country since the middle ages – since when increasing numbers of Christian churches and other faiths have been allowed to perform marriage ceremonies conducted before God but also recognised as marriage by the state. There is no uniform Christian view on many things, within denominations or churches let alone between them. But my view on marriage is, I understand, the official and majority view of my denomination and most of the other Christian churches in this country. As well as of many other faiths. I have held this belief since long before I was first elected. I believe that all creation is of God and loved equally by God: female and male and those who believe themselves to be neither, and people of all races and ethnicity and ability and sexuality and of all faiths and none. I also believe that the partnership of one man and one woman in lifelong commitment – which came to be known as marriage – is at the heart of the created order, and especially blessed by God. And that the law of the land should recognise this traditional view of marriage.

But all my political life, I have supported disestablishment of the Church of England – and a few years ago was one of those involved in the successful initiative to make this our party policy. As an evangelical protestant Christian and as a Liberal I really want a separation between church and state. In the interests of both. Since the mid 19th century our law has legitimised and formalised non-religious weddings. Consistent with this, I believe that heterosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and non-gendered people should all be able to have the choice of an identical sort of civil partnership or of a civil  marriage or union. This should be separate from Christian or other faith marriages. But the way of reconciling the two is for us first to separate completely in law the recognition of relationships by the state from the marriages conducted by churches, other faith groups – and humanists, but then also to allow those faith communities which wish to recognise gay and heterosexual marriages equally in their ceremonies the ability to do so, and with identical consequences in the law of the land.

This is a time for liberals to promote loudly our liberal values. For us to support not orthodoxy but difference and dissent. For single people and couples, straight or gay, of all faiths and none, to be able to practice our religions, express our beliefs and choose our relationships within the law with equal freedom. But always permitting, respecting and celebrating our differences and different views. Equal but not identical .Nobody a prisoner of the old orthodoxies or the new.  And all of us always seeking to love, respect, serve and value each other more – every day. Which I am very conscious is something I still need to do much better myself.

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111 Comments

  • Andrew Emmerson 24th May '13 - 12:06pm

    Unless I’m reading this piece wrong – it seems that the objections were a mixture of very minor technicalities, and far flung policy ideas that aren’t going to happen this side of the 21st century.

    It’s typical Simon Hughes – says a lot of words – but yet strangely still says very little indeed.

  • Benjamin Mathis 24th May '13 - 12:15pm

    Simon,

    Thank you for taking the time, to write and submit this. If nothing else, it gives us all a from-the-horse’s-mouth account of your reasoning.

    I’m afraid, however, that for me and many others it really doesn’t answer the central problem with your vote – and with those who spoke and/or voted against equal marriage this week.

    It really doesn’t matter to me what your personal feelings are or what your faith tells you – although it naturally matters a great deal to you. What matters is how you are prepared to allow the state to act in all our names. One of the central tenets of liberalism is that the state should not use its power to force moral or personal choices of one person or group on another. By not voting to allow same-sex couples to marry, you consented to a continuation of exactly that; the application of your own religious and personal mores at the expense of those who do not share them.

    What is more, as the Deputy Leader of our MPs, to not support something which is the settled policy of our membership sent a profound signal to the wider world that on issues of equality and civil liberties – areas where even after everything that has happened since 2010, the party is still seen as the best bet when it comes to fighting for people’s rights – we can’t necessarily be trusted to vote liberally.

    Again, I’m glad you recognised the need to make a statement like this, but I hope you will understand why I, and I suspect many others, will remain deeply disappointed.

  • Paul Pettinger 24th May '13 - 12:19pm

    Thank you for seeking to engage . All of us of an independent mind will over the course of our lives hold views that will challenge many of those those who otherwise hold broadly similar instincts and opinions, and I was certainly challenged by your speech, especially your comment that ‘… marriage was set up by God for the creation of children. I believe that it was to link the biological needs of children with their biological parents. I believe that it was for biological complementarity’. Your comments seemed to undermine the importance and appropriateness of marriage for people who are unable to have children or/and who adopt, which I wonder if, upon reflection, was a point that you didn’t mean to make.

  • Paul Pettinger 24th May '13 - 12:23pm

    And if so, what is the difference for marriage for heterosexual couples who can’t have children, and same sex couples?

  • Very confused by this. Simon says he believes marriage is union of one man, one woman, which would appear to me to be an argument against Equal Marriage altogether. Yet he voted for at the second reading and has now abstained. I do respect people’s right to have a view different to mine – it’s this inconsistency and apparent contradiction I object to. Sarah Teather at least had the honestly to stick to a single position based on her beliefs all along.

  • Richard Wingfield 24th May '13 - 12:31pm

    Simon, I appreciate this piece greatly. Though I disagree with them, I respect the fact that most Liberal Democrat MPs who oppose same-sex marriage have taken the time to explain their views courteously and respectfully, something that cannot be said for those in other parties.

    I do, however, feel the need to challenge some of what you said, particularly the following passage:

    “I also believe that the partnership of one man and one woman in lifelong commitment – which came to be known as marriage – is at the heart of the created order, and especially blessed by God. And that the law of the land should recognise this traditional view of marriage.”

    My difficulty with this is that if you believe that the law should recognise the traditional, Christian view of marriage, then the law would have to be changed in many other respects: divorce would have to be prohibited (Jesus was crystal clear on this particular point); adultery would have to be prohibited (one of the Ten Commandments); atheists would not be permitted to get married since Christian marriage involves both the parties and God, whereas an atheist marriage would not. By focusing only on the gender of the parties to the marriage and not the other elements of a Christian marriage (such as the ban on divorce, the prohibition of adultery, the involvement of God), it feels a little disingenuous to say that you want the law to recognise a traditional view of marriage. Unless, of course, you would like the law changed to ban divorce, adultery, atheist marriage etc. but you did not put forward any amendments on those issues during the Bill’s passage so I assume you do not. If you accept that our law does not have to reflect traditional Christian marriage in terms of divorce, adultery, and atheist marriage, then why the insistence that it has to be between a man and a women?

    I also struggle to accept your statement that “I believe that heterosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and non-gendered people should all be able to have the choice of an identical sort of civil partnership or of a civil marriage or union” because this Bill would have done exactly that, given LGBT people the choice of entering civil marriage. I agree, actually, that ideally we should have a wholesale reform of our marriage law which separates entirely the concepts of state-recognised civil marriage and religious marriages, that option simply is not on the table, and nor is it likely to be for a very long time. It is unfair and cruel to LGBT people to make them wait until some government decides to reform marriage law in its entirety before they are allowed to get married. That is letting the best be the enemy of the good. Absolutely campaign wholeheartedly for wholesale reform of marriage law, but don’t force same-sex couples to wait until that happens.

    David Cameron has been eloquent on the benefits same-sex marriage will have on young LGBT people. He said ” “I think we should think about it like this – that there will be young boys in schools today who are gay, who are worried about being bullied, who are worried about what society thinks of them, who can see that the highest Parliament in the land has said that their love is worth the same as anybody else’s love and that we believe in equality. I think they will stand that bit taller today and I’m proud of the fact that that has happened.”

    I agree entirely. I am deeply sorry that you felt unable to support the Bill at Third Reading, and I know that you have done a huge amount on LGBT equality over the years. It’s such a shame that that excellent reputation will now be somewhat tarnished.

  • Zoe O'connell 24th May '13 - 12:40pm

    Simon,

    Thanks for explaining this in detail. However, the argument you present has one central flaw – the assumption that your beliefs are shared by all other religions or even all Christians. This is not the case, and we heard many interventions during the policy debate at conference a few years ago from religious members who wanted to be able to celebrate same-sex marriage.

    For me, no religion has a moral right to dictate terms to all other religions.

  • Andreas Christodoulou 24th May '13 - 12:50pm

    Simon,

    Like many others, I genuinely thank you for reasonably and clearly explaining your reasoning on this issue, and I want to echo (where I think we are all in broad agreement here) Richard’s comment’s above, where we respect the fact that our MP’s who hold contradicting issues on the subject on which the party is broadly united have taken their time to explain their views.

    However, you still abstained and decided on a policy which – in my view and the views of many others, discriminates against a subsection of the population on an issue which affects nobody else but them. You say you believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman, that’s fine.

    Here’s how you should have approached that – don’t marry a man.

    The preamble to our constitution says “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

    I can only see that you and the other MPs who have voted against (or, in your case, abstained for voting for such a bill). The issue is a clear case of liberty and equality. The liberty and equality of homosexuals being impeded with no impact in the slightest of the liberty of anyone else who would – of course, not be forced to marry someone of the same gender if they did not wish to do so.

    In voting against and/or abstaining from the bill you have put your religious views ahead of the fundamental human right to love another and to be treated equally by society, and you have discriminated against homosexuals in favour of your own private religious opinions. This is how I (and I dare see many others) see the situation.

    I am highly disappointed in the actions of an (unfortunately sizeable) miniority of the party following this gay marriage issue.

    Regards,

  • I disagree completely with Simon on his approach to the bill.

    However, I will say that I think he is spot on above on disestablishment of the Church of England (albeit that it is probably not going to happen). Much of the contortions that people have gone through on this issue have been precisely related to the difference between marriage as a religious concept and as a matter of legal relations. The worst aspect of the bill was the banning of same sex marriages by the Church of England – again a direct result of an established church.

  • Andreas Christodoulou 24th May '13 - 1:00pm

    Tories (305)
    For: 118 (39%)
    Again: 129 (42%)
    Abstain: 58 (19%)

    Labour (257)
    For: 194 (75%)
    Against: 14 (5%)
    Abstain: 49 (20%)

    Lib Dem (57)
    For: 44 (77%)
    Against: 4 (7%)
    Abstain: 9 (16%)

    Figures taken from the wikipedia article on the subject, for reference.

  • Well done Simon. I’m in the ‘pleased or relieved’ category myself but I know that the dissenting MPs have caused a lot of hurt here so quite right you’ve faced the critics. I’m proud that we have a party where dissenting views are listened to, and that we said this was a free vote and a conscience issue every step of the way. This gave the vote in favour far more legitimacy, and showed that there is space for in our party for those with deep convictions and concerns on this issue that has ripped the Tories apart.

    One question: several suggestions have been made that those MPs not voting for same sex marriage would lose activists over this issue. Do you have any evidence whether this is the case? I might have to pick up a few bundles next time I am passing through Southwark if so.

    Best wishes.

  • Richard Church 24th May '13 - 1:23pm

    Simon is arguing for the complete secularisation of state recognised marriage, as happens in France where people may have a civic marriage and then if they choose completely separate religious marriage ceremony. I would agree with him, but he must know that a British Parliament is not going to legislate for that in our lifetimes. It’s the same argument that led a few people to oppose state recognition of humanist marriages because we should be seeking the end of state recogniton of any marriage (religious or otherwise) not conducted by a state registrar.

    Not to vote for this legislation is to allow the status quo to persist just because Simon’s secular ideal is not on offer. Gay people deserve equal status for their relationships now. They should not have to wait for the perfect secular solution.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th May '13 - 1:29pm

    Andreas

    You mention 9 abstentions, but I think only Simon and Tim were actual abstentions. The others were absent. Jenny Wilott is on mat leave, Norman Lamb was out of the country, Bob Smith was heading back to Aberdeen for a constituency thing, John Leech and Mark Hunter were both on leave, Malcolm Bruce was in his constituency and Bob Russell was telling. All of these, apart from Simon and Tim, had previously expressed support for the Bill.

  • Geoffrey Payne 24th May '13 - 1:33pm

    I am confused by this in that for all those Christians who believe in their Christian tradition can happily continue to believe in their Christian tradition. However Parliament legislates for everyone regardless of whether they believe in a religion or not.
    The change in the law increases choice, it does not take away freedom from anyone. Given our modern understanding of sexuality I cannot see how Liberal MPs can oppose this.
    I also object to those who voted for “freedom of conscious” for registrars. They are paid to do a job. They do not have the right to discriminate against black people so why should they have the right to discriminate against homosexuals? They do not have to approve of gay marriage, but since it was not their decision for gay people to marry on the first place I do not see how their God can begrudge them marrying other people who have made their own decision.

  • Simon Hughes needs to think a bit less about apologising for the offence caused awful things he’s done and a bit more about not doing the awful things in the first place.

  • I want to restate a point Tony Greaves made recently about a similar conscience issue. We are a tolerant party or we might as well pack up and go home. As Liberals we believe that people in our party have the absolute right to disagree with party policy. (Just read our constitution)

    The issue of equal marriage was a free vote, where our MPs had the right to vote as they wished. There was no whip and MPs voted according to their consciences. If we allow our MPs a free vote, we cannot then complain when they exercise it.

    In our party we respect differing views, even if we disagree with them. As it happens I disagree with the position Simon has taken, because I am a Quaker and we are happy to celebrate same sex marriages – and indeed have been doing so before this legislation had even been published, though the legal format was a Civil Partnership.

    Voltaire famously wrote “I disagree with every word you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”
    Some of those writing on Lib Dem Voice would do well to remember this.

  • These Lib Dem MPs appear to have a most peculiar variety of ‘same sex’ ‘positions! ;-)

  • Scott BERRY 24th May '13 - 1:54pm

    Simon,

    I agree with you that the disestablishment of the church would be a good thing for our society and would make many of these issues similar. But your argument seems to hinge on the idea that with an established church religious and legal marriage cannot be seperated. It seems to me that they already are conceptually and practically seperate albeit linked; you can have just a legal marriage in a registry office, you can have both at the same time in a church, or you can I believe have just a religious marraige without the legal elements (although it rarely happens). This bill was only about legal marriage and went to great

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th May '13 - 1:55pm

    I am very grateful to Simon for writing what I found a moving article. It breaks my heart to think that anyone can grow up in an environment where they are made to feel that there’s something wrong with who they are.

    Like others, though, I feel that there is one issue that he hasn’t tackled in this article. That is that if he believes that marriage between a man and a woman, that’s his choice. Why should his view be imposed on others. For me, maximum liberalism is achieved by allowing protection (and this Bill has more protection than necessary) for those religious organisations who do not wish to conduct same sex marriages, while allowing those who want to get married to do so.

  • Scott BERRY 24th May '13 - 1:57pm

    …extent to not affect religious marriage in the CofE. I can’t see that this in any way restricted the churches ability to practice religious marriage as it wished and so can’t see your reasons for not supporting it. I appreciate you trying to explain your view here, but thinks it has come from conflating legal and religious marriage where they are seperated in reality, and it seems to be against the fundamental values of our party. It would have been nice if we could have been the only major party to be united on this issue, with it seeming to so many in our party to be at the core of what we believe.

    Scott

    (sorry, accidentally posted half way through my comment)

  • Voltaire famously wrote “I disagree with every word you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”

    I really object to people trotting this quote out every time someone’s point of view is criticised. No one is suggesting that Simon should be prevented from saying anything. Some people who are unhappy with his actions are suggesting that his stance may be incompatible – or at least, sits uncomfortably with – being a parliamentary representative of the Liberal Democrat party, not to mention the Deputy Leader of our MPs.

    There is a huge difference between everyone’s inalienable right to personal freedom of expression and people’s rights to freedom of expression while representing a particular organisation. I’m a vegetarian, but I wouldn’t expect to be able to work in a butcher’s shop and tell the customers that I disagree with them eating meat (or at least, I wouldn’t expect my boss to be happy about it if I did!).

    Now, this was a free vote, so of course all MPs were entitled to vote as they wished. And certainly coalition and other issues of compromise and timing have prompted Lib Dem MPs to vote against party policy on various other occasions. However, this is different precisely because it was a free vote and therefore any MP’s stance on this issue can be reasonably assumed to represent their own personal conviction. The fact that a few of our MPs have personal values on this issue that are so far removed from my own strikes at the heart of the trust between representative and representee.

  • I find myself in agreement with those who have stated that we can respect Simon’s personal views, but right now he is helping to force others to confirm those beleifs regardless of their personal beleifs, which goes completely against our Liberal Democratic ideals.

  • Simon calls himself “an evangelical protestant Christian” however I am glad he does not appear to take the position that marriage was ordained by God but recognises that marriage is not a purely Christian rite. It follows from this that marriage is a civil matter as Simon recognises was the case until the Middle Ages. He then states that faith communities should be able to perform same sex marriages. To me this seems to be what the bill does and Simon has not argued why he thinks this is not the case.

    His objection then appears to be he doesn’t want the Church of England to perform same sex marriages however the act would give an opt-out to Anglian clergy not to perform same sex marriages. Therefore only Anglian clergy who have no faith based objection to same sex marriage will perform such marriages. As Simon recognises “There is no uniform Christian view on many things”. The Anglian church has a very wide range of views. Therefore why can’t Simon support Anglian clergy who don’t object performing same sex marriage ceremonies?

    However his position may be a more extreme conservative Christian one. As Paul Pettinger quotes from Simon’s speech, “… marriage was set up by God for the creation of children…” this goes further than what he wrote above where Simon appears to recognise that marriage is a civil matter but it “is at the heart of the created order, and especially blessed by God.” I share Richard Winfield’s difficulty with “And that the law of the land should recognise this traditional view of marriage.”

    Simon seems to be supporting the Catholic Orthodox view on marriage and wants the state to enforce this orthodoxy. This is counter to Simon’s recognition that marriage is a civil matter and his argument about our liberal values and being a prisoner of the orthodox.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th May '13 - 5:06pm

    Before anybody reads what I am going to say, please understand I am not trying to be provocative and I think an awful lot more needs to be done to rid the stigma of being gay. People should be taught from a young age that same sex relationships are a normal part of society, and I am sure this is happening now. I am also not religious so I am tackling this from an objective viewpoint.

    The major objection to Simon Hughes’s position seems to be that he is forcing his religious beliefs on society as a whole. I would like to tackle this by asking whether it would have been better to redefine civil partnerships, rather than marriage?

    To explain my point, and correct me if I am wrong, but was it not the case that marriage was a religious innovation, and civil partnerships a civil innovation, so perhaps in order to achieve equality we should have extended civil partnerships, rather than marriage, because marriage should not be changed due to it being religious?

    If we did it that way then perhaps we could have made civil partnerships the norm for all non religious people. Perhaps we could have also developed a more catchy phrase than civil partnership, and they could have become the fashionable norm for everyone at some point in the future?

    I have always been in favour of gay marriage, but this has caused a lot of strife around the world and it has made me wonder whether there would have been a better way to achieve equality. Even if no better alternative exists, I still don’t think it is right to pick on people for voting according to their religious beliefs, or that of their constituents.

  • Richard Wingfield 24th May '13 - 6:00pm

    @ Eddie Sammon: Whilst marriage may well have been a religious institution for many hundreds of years, the state has involved itself in marriage for almost two hundred years. Civil marriage (with is entirely separate from any religious ceremony) is governed entirely by statute and civil marriage is therefore an entirely civil innovation. Only religious marriages (i.e. marriages conducted in places of faith) are religious and this Bill does absolutely nothing to change how individual religions conduct or define marriage. The fact that the two can take place simultaneously (i.e. a state-recognised marriage conducted in a place of faith) should not be understood to mean that all marriages are religious. In any event, a growing number of religions define marriage as between two persons of the same or opposite sex. Why should the state limit their religious freedom to conduct same-sex marriages?

    The strife argument is a weak one, I feel. Almost all social reforms pushing for equality have caused strife. The battle for equal suffrage caused strife. The campaign for de-segregation in the US caused strife. Strife is no reason for social reform not to take place. This campaign has, if anything, caused remarkably little strife. There is no violence or bloodshed. The battle has been one entirely made up of ideas and argument. If, by “strife” you mean that there are some people who are now upset that two people who love each other will be able to get married, then they really need to get a grip and worry instead about things that actually affect them.

    And I really do take umbrage with your suggestion that anyone here is “picking on” Simon. All we are doing is challenging his arguments and putting forward our own. No-one has used names, been personally insulting or in any way offensive. We are challenging his logic, his reasoning, and his arguments, not him as a person. To quote Mill, threads like this are the “marketplace of ideas” which are fundamental to free speech. Simon has put forward his reasoning for opposing same-sex marriage, and the rest of us are arguing against it in strong, but perfectly respectful, language.

  • Ruth Bright 24th May '13 - 6:03pm

    Dear Simon, You have spoken in very personal terms so perhaps other should too. Bet ween 1992 and 2002 I was an activist and councillor in Southwark and can say with all honesty that during that decade the Lib Dem cause in Southwark came before my family, my job, my finances and even my own health. You have put Southwark first for many decades; a remarkable and often selfless commitment.

    But Simon, you have to continue to motivate your local activists and you have sorely let them down. After the coalition’s repeated shame on welfare, same-sex marriage was at at least something the party could be proud of and you were not even able to help grant us that. Spare us the angst and hand-wringing. As Andreas says earlier in this thread all those who don’t like same-sex marriage have a simple solution. Don’t marry someone of the same sex.

  • @ Eddie Sammon

    That’s similar to one of Simon’s suggestions re complete separation of church and state (if I’ve understood both of you correctly). While I think there’s a lot of merit in that suggestion, I’m pretty sure that would cause a lot more strife than gay marriage. If state recognition of relationships were to be done exclusively through civil partnerships, that would have to entail scrapping the legal trappings attached to religious marriage. Cue religious groups and non-religious traditionalists alike complaining about the “abolition of marriage”!

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea and think it may well be preferable in principle, I just can’t see it happening in the UK for quite a while. I think that’s more or less the system in France, though, isn’t it?

  • @ Eddie Sammon – “but was it not the case that marriage was a religious innovation, and civil partnerships a civil innovation” Eddie you are incorrect. There are many examples of societies in the past where marriages had no religious element. Simon recognised that this was the case in Britain until the Middle Ages. It might be that it was not until 1538 that everyone in England and Wales were married by a priest. It could be said that religions took over marriage. However there are still some religions such as Buddhism that see marriage as a civil matter.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th May '13 - 7:06pm

    Richard, I think your point about civil marriages being nothing to do with religion is a good one. I don’t know much about this so I’ll have to take your word on it for now.

    Regarding strife: by this I mean deep unpopularity among some. I am interested in addressing all concerns – if it matters to others it matters to me. Although obviously you have to draw a line somewhere and decide to divide.

    You say you take annoyance by me saying people are picking on Simon: I just think we should be tolerant towards religious beliefs and we have to draw a line somewhere on proportionality. I think a Christian voting against gay marriage is acceptable; however if it was someone voting against the decriminalisation of homosexuality I would not think that is acceptable. As Simon’s equality record proves, he has campaigned against policies such as Section 28, so he is not one who does not consider proportionality either.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th May '13 - 7:17pm

    Interesting Catherine, I don’t know much about the separating church from state proposals but they sound similar.

    Amalric, ahh now it makes sense.

    Thanks

  • Tony Greaves 24th May '13 - 10:22pm

    “There is a huge difference between everyone’s inalienable right to personal freedom of expression and people’s rights to freedom of expression while representing a particular organisation”

    In case anyone misinterprets this posting (and some people seem determined to attack anyone who does not take the strongest and instransigent line on this issue) let me repeat that on 3rd June I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Marriage (etc) Bill in the Lords.

    I just want to comment on the quote above. MPs do not simply represent their party. They also represent their constituents, and they have a duty to pay attention to their own beliefs. Since all parties consist of people with different constituency interests and different personal views (assuming that they all do think from time to time) it means that quite often they are voting against the best interests of one or even two of the three things they “represent”. Usually they follow the party line whether or not they agree with it. But if there is a “free vote” – a procedure determined by their party – do not be surprised if some of our MPs vote against party policy or government policy in a particular case.

    In the case of the two party officers who abstained on 3rd Reading, think about why they did so. Perhaps because they found, on this free vote, it was impossible to resolve their personal and party responsibilities. Rather than attack them for this, you should congratulate them on making a balanced decision which fully respected the party view.

    As for the Lords, we just have two responsibilities, since we have no constituents. Doesn’t mean some decisions are any easier however.

    Tony Greaves

  • IMHO the wedding is the religious or non religious element, marriage is universal. This is patently clear, as virtually all cultures regardless of their predominant religion have a process that adults enter into that binds them together within their community.

  • Trinity Dejavu 24th May '13 - 11:28pm

    Congratulations for managing to demonstrate exactly why the political classes earn so little respect in this country.

    In short, you’re entire point above can be summed up as “I don’t mean to offend, but…. “

  • Helen Tedcastle 24th May '13 - 11:59pm

    Like Linda Jack, I find Simon’s post moving and genuinely heartfelt. It is also well-considered and thoughtful – he deserves credit for this. I find myself in agreement in large part with his comments and outside LDV there will be many members of this Party who will agree with him.

    . “There is no uniform Christian view on many things, within denominations or churches let alone between them. But my view on marriage is, I understand, the official and majority view of my denomination and most of the other Christian churches in this country. As well as of many other faiths. I have held this belief since long before I was first elected. ”

    Simon touches on an important point – Christianity in the UK is actually is a fairly complex picture and requires some basic knowledge in order to negotiate the variation of beliefs and structures – the religious groups arguing that they are able to have marriage services for gay people are not representative of the vast numbers of Christians and indeed, Jewish communities in this country – they have particular histories and beliefs which make this move easy for them – but it is very difficult in conscience for others, as Simon outlines.

    At the very least, this view represents the original definition of marriage which cannot be discarded lightly or easily – it is too significant.
    I should also point out contrary to some comments made on the thread – faiths do not dictate and believers blindly follow – Simon’s view along with the other MPs views are the product of a mature and living faith, which requires thought and discernment. Such discernment is not the unique preserve of the secularists and humanists.

    One of the things which originally attracted me to the Party decades ago was the attention paid to identity and equality – difference and diversity was something to be celebrated – it’s in the preamble – none shall be enslaved by conformity.

    I fear that we are falling into the traps laid by Labour – intolerance of conscience and a singular lack of compassion for those who want marriage to remain as it is but who are not anti-gay, racist ,sexist or ageist.(and have a track record to prove it).

    Surely it needs to be remembered, the change in the definition of marriage does not just affect gay couples but has profound effects on married people now, and heterosexual couples and their offspring in the future.

  • An interesting and no doubt deeply felt post, but the argument doesn’t bear scrutiny. Simon is right to feel that people feel hurt or that he has let them down – he has, and so too, frankly, did too many other MPs. I don ‘t care that this was in Parliament free vote, for liberals there could only be one way to vote. Simon, Sarah and the others are simply trying to force the requirements of their own beliefs on everybody. That is not liberal. At all.

  • Richard Wingfield 25th May '13 - 12:41am

    @ Eddie Sammon: Having read your last comment, I suspect that we are closer in wavelength than I originally thought. A person’s faith does impact upon our views, beliefs and politics. As Tony Greaves has said, we do not elect MPs to slavishly follow the demands of their electorate or their party, but to use their personal views and good judgment when making decisions on how to vote. Sometimes this can be good. An MP, for example, who said that because of his Christian views on showing compassion to the less fortunate, that he would vote in favour of measures which would help rehabilitate rather than punish criminals, may well be going against the views of their electorate or party, and I would, in that situation, respect and defend that MP. I guess I just draw the line a bit higher than you do on issues of equality and LGBT rights. For me, using faith as the basis for voting against same-sex marriage is in the same category as it would be for voting against the deciminalisation of homosexuality, but I respect your view that the line can be drawn elsewhere as to what is justifiable or not, and I do understand where you’re coming from.

    I still maintain that the fact that a measure causes division and may be unpopular / cause offense is not a good reason not to push for it; and I would not ever want to see people punished or disadvantaged because of their opposition to same-sex marriage, and I believe that the Bill puts enough safeguards in place to protect those who share that view. That may be little comfort, I accept.

    @ Helen Tedcastle: I shall continue to reflect and think about your and Simon’s (and many others’, I’m sure) views on this debate. I can’t say I’m going to change my mind, but I appreciate you taking the time to express them articulately. One thing I have struggled with in the debate is that point raised in your last sentence, that the change will have “profound effects on married people now, and heterosexual couples and their offspring in the future”. I have heard this argument many times, but I have yet to hear what these profound effects actually are. So I ask with genuine sincerity and not sarcastically: what are they? I’ve tried but I just can’t think of how this will affect children in the future, save that all of them will be able to marry the person they love one day.

  • Dear Simon … thanks for being so open and honest. I am with you as a Christian brother who has also experienced some of your struggles. Complex issues, difficult to vote, but there was no whip on this vote … every MP enjoyed freedom of conscience,

  • Trevor Stables 25th May '13 - 9:07am

    I have nothing but admiration for Simon Hughes.

    As a gay man Simon has helped us in getting acceptance of civil partnerships in France, This is very much appreciated. He is taking a reasoned and principled stand and as Liberals we should have the strength to recognise diversity and be tolerant.
    Incidentally, here in France , all Marriages have first to be Civil Marriages registered at the Town Hall, afterwards everyone has a choice to have a religious ceremony or not….maybe it is better that way around!

  • David Parkes 25th May '13 - 10:25am

    Simon’s main objection appears to be one of language. He appears to be saying the word “marriage” should be reserved for religious ceremonies and we should call all other ceremonies something else, “Civil Unions” if you like.

    The problem with this is the English language has already evolved to the point where popular understanding of the word marriage (whether prefixed with the word civil or not) has already changed to include non-religious marriage.

    What he proposes would be a meaningless point of language which wouldn’t be respected by the public (even civil partners casually refer to themselves as “married”) and would amount to swimming against the tide of history, as well as language.

    Simon Hughes would do well to remember he is a legislator not a lexicographer.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th May '13 - 10:32am

    Richard, good to know there is some more understanding between us! Oh and don’t worry about my concern for strife, I have some views which are deeply unpopular, prior to explanation, but I push for them anyway! It’s just I’m not as passionate as others for getting this bill through.

  • Helen Tedcastle 25th May '13 - 10:45am

    Richard Wingfield – I appreciate the thoughts and tone in your comments to me and you raise a genuine question about the effects the redefinition of marriage is going to have on married people now and in the future (and their children).

    “So I ask with genuine sincerity and not sarcastically: what are they? I’ve tried but I just can’t think of how this will affect children in the future, save that all of them will be able to marry the person they love one day.”

    Okay. I think we came at this from different angles. I think you see this change as a matter of discrimination and rights, whereas I see this re-definition as a change of meaning and perception.

    Like Simon, though not on the scale of his commitment and position as an MP, I protested vehemently against Section 28, wrote articles about it for student newspapers and went on protests – I also took part in anti-racist actions and so on. Therefore, I do not put this issue in the category of discrimination. Why? because civil rights are now in place for gay people and civil partnerships give gay couples civil protections in law, as well as a public ceremony of civil recognition and the loving commitment of the couple. The law enshrines equality alongside respect for identity and difference – this is a Liberal law in my view.

    Marriage of males with females is also a ceremony which gives civil protections and is a sign in public of the couples commitment. However, there is something else in the case of heterosexuals – the commitment in law to safeguard in their union, the resulting offspring of that relationship. Now it might be old-fashioned to raise this but the safeguarding of the children of this relationship is a good investment for the state – it sends a message to society – marriage is a good thing, yes but that the ‘product’ of this relationship will be protected (in law).

    Marriage in the heterosexual sense (in law) is not just a private commitment but a public commitment of a couple to declare their intentions to remain together and to bring up their children together. In this sense, marriage is an investment not just for the state but two families (and their continuation) and across the generations – the resulting children are born into extended families. This is actually a very positive message sent out to young men (particularly) and women in fact that marriage is a real commitment and carries responsibilities. I am concerned this message is being obscured with the redefinition.

    Of course, people can point to any number of exceptions: the divorce rate – although neither partner presumably intended this when they made their commitment – this does not invalidate the necessity of marriage though which expresses intentions; the couples who do not have or intend to have children – of course, after marriage a couple may or may not intend to have children – this depends on many factors – but these exceptions do not prove the rule.

    What about the effects on children of this redefinition? My view is it will effect children in two ways: it will change their understanding of marriage – from one of founding a family unit of their own to a private commitment between two people who love each other – there is a subtle difference of meaning here – marriage is no longer primarily about family – this becomes a secondary outcome. What becomes the primary interest is the private relationship.

    It may well be, in fact I know, that many people already view marriage as a personal commitment first and foremost and children come along or not – but in my view, couples may do well to consider the the commitment to children before they decide to have them ( if this makes me sound old-fashioned, it’s because I have seen the effects of behaviour of adults on children when the adults put themselves first every time) – children flourish best when being brought up by their natural parents – the message of the redefinition is to obscure this unspoken value.

    There is a second effect – once gay couples embrace a heterosexual model: marriage even if the definition changes the word is still there – this may well have an effect on procreative rights. I am thinking of IVF/Surrogacy etc… will the Government legislate for gay couples to have the same cycles of IVF on the NHS as a male-female couple? Will Surrogacy become the norm for married gay couples – in effect, intentionally bringing children into the world without one parent? i think the issue of parenthood is going to become a big debating point. This move I think will accelerate and complicate the picture for children even more than it is now.

    Some might say, who am I to question what couples do if they want to be parents? My answer is this – it has everything to do with me because children are part of society as am I. It will have a cost on the NHS, effect education, social services, benefits etc..

    I think that gay adoption is a good thing ( a shame that Harman did not allow a conscience clause for Catholic agencies which are closed down now – reverse discrimination from Labour in my view). I am not arguing gay people cannot make good parents but that the means of obtaining children needs to protect children’s rights – the right to a mother and father. This is a big concern of mine.

  • @David Parkes

    I think you may be misinterpreting Simon’s point when you say “Simon’s main objection appears to be one of language. He appears to be saying the word “marriage” should be reserved for religious ceremonies and we should call all other ceremonies something else, “Civil Unions” if you like.

    The problem with this is the English language has already evolved to the point where popular understanding of the word marriage (whether prefixed with the word civil or not) has already changed to include non-religious marriage.”

    I think Simon’s point is that the word marriage has always been understood to be the marriage of a man and a woman, and this is the use of the word that everyone has grown up with. Until now, it has been a clearly understood concept by everyone.

    Now, at the sweep of a legislator’s pen, the legal meaning of the word has been changed and I would contend that the vast majority of people would have preferred to keep the meaning of the word as it was, while giving everyone equal rights. Many seem to be emphasising this hijacking of the meaning of the word as much as the equalisation of rights (if indeed you accept that they are now equal). In fact, I would contend that a new term will soon emerge to describe the marriage of a man and a woman, just as the term gay marriage evolved to describe that. All that will be achieved by the insistence on the use of the word marriage in all this is confusion (especially for the elderly) and complexity for everyone.

    Actually Legislator’s do have to be lexicographers, because the enactment of laws crucially does depend crucially on the meaning of words.

  • David Parkes 25th May '13 - 12:16pm

    @DavidEvans

    “Actually Legislator’s do have to be lexicographers, because the enactment of laws crucially does depend crucially on the meaning of words.”

    Yes, that’s fair, my cutting close is open to such a criticism, but laws crucially depend on the meaning of words as they are understood now, not how they were understood 200 years ago. Marriage has not referred to exclusively religious ceremonies since civil marriage ceremonies were introduced. That’s a lot of history to overcome.

    Very few people share Simon’s understanding of the word marriage as to be a religious institution. Most simply see it as a commitment made between two people to share their lives together. As I already alluded to most gay people in civil partnerships , refer themselves as “married”.

    They say, “We got married in 2009″, not “We got ‘civil partnershiped’ in 2009.

    You can’t claw back the popular meaning of the word, that ship has sailed.

  • Helen Tedcastle 25th May '13 - 5:24pm

    David Evans
    ” I think Simon’s point is that the word marriage has always been understood to be the marriage of a man and a woman, and this is the use of the word that everyone has grown up with. Until now, it has been a clearly understood concept by everyone.”

    I agree with this assessment David. In fact, I would contend that a substantial number of people still do regard the word marriage to designate a specific union – for what it is worth, polls suggest gay marriage is recognised by a small majority, although it depends on the questions asked – it is not universally acclaimed as a concept, although equality is clearly accepted. Therein lies the confusion of this Bill.

    “Now, at the sweep of a legislator’s pen, the legal meaning of the word has been changed and I would contend that the vast majority of people would have preferred to keep the meaning of the word as it was, while giving everyone equal rights”

    The definition has not yet changed – even if the law does change, it does not mean that everyone will understand the consequences – this will take time but no doubt, it will occur.

    I’m not convinced that it is just the elderly who are troubled by this – it is convenient for some to dismiss this as a movement for the young against ‘out-dated’ concepts etc..I think this is a deeply ageist argument.

    There are middle aged people like me who are unconvinced by the redefinition and I wonder how much analysis has been done on the understanding young people have of marriage – I would need to see evidence of this and am not content to believe polls on their enthusiasm for redefining the word marriage- polls are transient.

    @David Parkes: “Very few people share Simon’s understanding of the word marriage as to be a religious institution. Most simply see it as a commitment made between two people to share their lives together.”

    The word marriage is not part of the religious institution as such. In marriage, the couple marry each other. What is at issue is the understanding of the meaning of the word marriage – and the connection to the Church is because this country is not France – we have an established Church – it cannot be wished away as an inconvenience. We have a Judaeo-Christian heritage and in order to know where we are going, we need to know where we have come from.

    Marriage as understood as present in law is a union of man and woman for the safeguarding of property and children as ‘fruits’ of the union. The point is that redefining it takes out the safeguarding of the natural children and simply reduces marriage to a contract between two individuals who are committed to the relationship.

    The definition of marriage as it is now is a social good because of the linking of the union to children (therefore it is a social good for children) – the redefinition makes a couple the social good and not children – they are removed from the equation.

    Personally, I cannot see what social good the removal of children from the arrangement brings – it’s a safeguard for any child born of a union. Even if not everyone who marries has a child, the law as it stands still protects those who come into existence.

    Another problem with redefining marriage in this way is that redefining the word and institution of marriage reduces it to a commodity by the state – it is no longer a social embodiment of the family unit but a personal choice, which couples can opt into or not..

    One could say that this Bill is the ultimate triumph of the market – removing the concept of the common good from marriage as a term, and reducing it to the concept of individual choice.

    Again, my problem with the Bill is not related to gay rights but the meaning of marriage. if there are insufficient civil rights in civil partnerships, then improve civil partnerships.

  • @ Helen Tadcastle.

    Helen states, “We have a Judaeo-Christian heritage and in order to know where we are going, we need to know where we have come from.” When someone has read the Old Testament they would know marriage is not just the “marriage of one man to one women”. They would know about polygyny. The Old Testament does not call for monogamy and some Jewish communities still practiced polygyny in the nineteenth century.

    Children today are taught about other religions and would know that Islam allows polygyny and maybe that Hinduism did in the past. I hope in the future children will learn about same sex marriage in ancient Greece. They may even be taught about other forms of marriage. However my point is that most people in the UK today will know there are at least two types of marriage – monogamy and polygyny.

    It is incorrect to believe (as Helen seems to) that children born to married couples have different rights than those born to unmarried couples. Therefore there is no extra safeguarding of children with married parents.

    While the Anglian church may and especially the Catholic Church teach marriage is for the procreation of children the New Testament does not. It is the union of two people and therefore is about life-long commitment and the avoidance of sin.

    The number of couples not getting married has increased since the 1970’s so that it now commonplace. Therefore the idea that marriage is about personal commitment and nothing more is the reality for most people today and for the young for at least 30 years.

    In conclusion this act will have no effect on people who are married now and no effect on children accept to hopefully teach them about the diversity of marriage. It will have no effect on the majority of people who already see marriage as a personal commitment.

  • It’s unbelievable that Helen Tedcastle is still spouting the same rubbish about marriage being for children and same-sex marriage taking children ‘out of the equation’.

    Even in religious terms, procreation has been only one of several reasons for the institution. One of three, according to the Book of Common Prayer. The other two apply to same-sex couples just as they apply to childless heterosexual couples.

    For this reason, heterosexual couples who are unable to have children have never been excluded from marriage. Clearly, there has _never_ been a requirement that a couple should be able to produce children before they can be married.

    She knows this because it’s been pointed out to her about a hundred and one times. It makes nonsense of her argument, but she still keeps posting it over and over again without even the slightest acknowledgment of the counter-argument that’s been put to her. How can one have any kind of rational discussion in those circumstances?

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th May '13 - 2:02pm

    @ Amalric: ” The Old Testament does not call for monogamy and some Jewish communities still practiced polygyny in the nineteenth century.”

    On Judaism: Jewish law is quite clear – marriage is between a male and female – this is how it is interpreted by the Rabbis in orthodox jewry (United Synagogue) although the reform and Liberal jews are relaxed about it. Speaking in Pink news recently, Lord Sacks makes the point about jewish law (biblically based) but is candid when he says that he does not seek to impose this view on others. However, it is likely he will vote against same-sex marriage proposals next week:
    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/05/23/chief-rabbi-lord-sacks-ive-not-come-out-strongly-against-same-sex-unions-but-in-judaism-we-dont-do-them/.

    ” I hope in the future children will learn about same sex marriage in ancient Greece. They may even be taught about other forms of marriage. ”

    In Ancient greece, homosexual relationships were regarded as higher forms of relationship than the procreative one with wives – this had everything to do with the view that men were open to spiritual communion with each other while women were material vessels for the birth of children. I think we have moved on in our understanding of women and children since then, so I’m rather surprised you would like this view taught to young children.

    On Islam: The Qur’an is clear that monogamy is the norm but that in times of crisis, say in war (and there were many in Arabia), women should be cared for by men and if that meant he took up to four wives in that situation – it was permitted. It is supposed to be exceptional – some cultures which had polygamy before Islam, merely incorporated pre-existing cultural norms into their Islam – but it’s not islamic unless following Quranic teaching correctly.

    I never claimed marriage is for procreation only – my view is love of the couple and procreation go together – it’s not about rights but responsibilities for resulting children in the union – that’s what safeguarding and protection means.

    @ Chris: I do wish you would read my comments with more care. I have never claimed marriage is just about procreation or that only fertile couples can get married. Lack of children in a marriage is not something which is always predictable anyway so why would anyone be stopped from marrying in that circumstance?

    I am pointing out that marriage as it is defined now, links children into the union of the couple – for their lawful protection – this is what is being axed. It is also a reminder to the couple of their responsibilities, as well as their rights.

    If the Bill goes ahead and redefines marriage, heterosexuals will be allowed, as enshrined in new law, to view that their marriage as nothing to do with children, stability and family units (the whole reason society has invested in marriage in the first place!) but is simply their personal expression of commitment – I see this as a backward step.

  • “On Islam: The Qur’an is clear that monogamy is the norm but that in times of crisis, say in war (and there were many in Arabia), women should be cared for by men and if that meant he took up to four wives in that situation – it was permitted. It is supposed to be exceptional – some cultures which had polygamy before Islam, merely incorporated pre-existing cultural norms into their Islam – but it’s not islamic unless following Quranic teaching correctly.”

    There seems to be a significant strand of islamic (Shia not Sunni) thought supporting temporary marriages – even as short as a few hours:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22354201

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th May '13 - 3:41pm

    @ Hywel: It would be useful to point out, should anyone be confused by this, that the majority Sunnis reject this trend or practice amongst some Shias as un- islamic, and Sunnis represent roughly 85% of the world’s muslims. In a multi-religious world, one can find exceptions to the general rule if one looks for them. See the following link:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16047709

  • William Benson 26th May '13 - 6:20pm

    Benjamin Mathis 24th May ’13 – 12:15pm
    ” One of the central tenets of liberalism is that the state should not use its power to force moral or personal choices of one person or group on another. ”

    Does this apply to absolutely every possible relationship between consenting adults?

  • Kevin McNamara 26th May '13 - 6:29pm

    i’m sorry but i find helen tedcastle’s argument to be hard to understand at first but as she actually expands on it, hard to stomach. i would find her argument at least cogent if same-sex couples did not have children – but they do! she talks about surrogacy and ivf, and it is at this point her argument gets hard to stomach.

    she points out that she argued and fought against section 28 back when it was introduced. had i been alive, i’d have thanked her and everyone else for what they were doing – it’s important there were dissenting voices. this doesn’t excuse the current homophobia that she now espouses – she talks about the ‘social cost’ of ivf cycle equality, surrogacy, etc. which i think really strikes at the core of the dog-whistle arguments that she is espousing. she doesn’t view same-sex couples as being morally equal, in my view, despite her talk about legal protections civil partnerships provides.

    and if it’s not clear enough at this point what she is really talking about – she then introduces the deeply illiberal and homophobic notion of ‘a right to a mother and a father’. who grants that right? or rather, forces it on everyone? helen tedcastle?

    i was raised by three women, and i turned out fine. i’d have been equally happy to have been raised by two loving mothers or fathers in a committed marriage. why is helen obsessed with such a heteronormative model of family? why is exactly the same thing the best for all children? isn’t non-conformism where liberals should be at home?

    i’m going to end the comment here as i could rant forever, but you get the flavour. i logged on here to moan about simon’s angst and hand-wringing and leave having been enraged by helen tedcastle instead.

  • “I am pointing out that marriage as it is defined now, links children into the union of the couple – for their lawful protection – this is what is being axed.”

    No matter how carefully I read this, I really cannot fathom what you are talking about.

    Can you quote the part of the Bill that you are claiming does this?

  • “I have never claimed marriage is just about procreation …
    [snip]
    … children, stability and family units (the whole reason society has invested in marriage in the first place!)”

    Haven’t I only just pointed out to you that “children, stability and family units” aren’t the whole reason for marriage, and didn’t you agree with that in the earlier part of your comment?

    This stuff is pure gibberish. It really is.

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th May '13 - 9:50pm

    Kevin McNamara: Clearly you feel very strongly about this – so do I – and I doubt we are going to agree on the legislation.

    All I will add is that I have been raising ethical considerations regarding the uses of reproductive technology and parenthood – these issues are not plucked by me out of the blue but are raised when this technology becomes available and when issues around parenthood come to the fore.

    The ‘right to a mother and father’ was aired because some of these technologies simply involve anonymous donors who have not further contact with the resulting child – this as an issue for society needs to be discussed further, especially as having a father and mother involved with their own child is generally, even now, regarded as the best (not the only due to circumstances such as death or divorce) environment for the upbringing of children.

    It is not homophobic to raise this point, as this is the obvious key of difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. However, this does not mean that homosexuals have less rights – it means there is an acknowledgement of equality and diversity in society.

    Of course children are brought up by a variety of family units because situations and circumstances vary. I have been arguing against the redefinition of a word which conveys and carries a particular meaning and implication – it has done so for a very long time.

    If that meaning is set to change – and it has no mandate whatsoever to be changed by this Government – (Not in manifestos or in the coalition agreement) – then the implications of that change need to be considered. I have tried to make the case reasonably but this issue is emotive for both sides.

  • As someone who along ago invested alot of my time in securing Simons intial election to Parliament and is now an activist in Lynne Featherstones constituency ….. i am very very disappointed with Simons position and vote. That is all i can say

  • Simon said his preferred option is to separate civil unions from any notion of marriage entirely. You can then join together in a committed relationship in whatever setting you think best – whether religious, humanist, in the beach, or whatever other setting provides the values you live for. The civil union would simply be the legal element.

    A number of comments here have dismissed that idea as simply unachievable or unrealistic. That’s disingenuous as the consultation on this bill, and the narrow debate on the issue allowed no scope for any ideas other than the current plans. We chose to make it unrealistic.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th May '13 - 11:56am

    Chris: ” Can you quote the part of the Bill that you are claiming does this?”

    Firstly, you know perfectly well that I am describing the word Marriage and its meaning – that is the whole point of this debate – what marriage in fact means.

    In the 1949 Act there is the acknowledgement of male-female and subsequent family relationships. This is made explicit in the First and Second schedules:

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1949/76/pdfs/ukpga_19490076_en.pdf

    There is no linking of children to marriage in the new Bill – except in this section:

    “Common law presumption
    2 (1) Section 11 does not extend the common law presumption that a child born
    to a woman during her marriage is also the child of her husband.
    (2) Accordingly, where a child is born to a woman during her marriage to
    another woman, that presumption is of no relevance to the question of who
    the child’s parents are.”

    This is the one acknowledgement of the natural family unit – presumption of birth and parenthood. This did not need to spelled out in the 1949 Act.

    Your second comment to me is worth only this response. I have not claimed that marriage is solely for reproduction – my point has always been that this element cannot be ignored in the marriage debate. It is relevant for obvious reasons.

    Please do read my comments carefully without rushing to condemnation first.

  • Max Wilkinson 27th May '13 - 3:58pm

    He lost me at ‘the life and death of Jesus’.

  • @ Helen Tedcastle

    With regard to the Old Testament there are about 40 polygynous marriages including Abraham, Jacob, Esau, David and Solomon who had 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3).

    Exodus 21:10 allows more than one wife – “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.”

    The Torah has levirate marriage instructing a man to marry his brother’s widow if there were no children to the marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5, Mark 12:18-25).

    Helen seems to misunderstand what is meant by “marriage is between a male and female”. Each marriage is between a male and a female but this does not mean a man can’t be married to more than one woman at the same time.

    Therefore the Jewish Law (the Torah) allows a man to have than one wife. And my point still stands – one only has to read the Old Testament to know this.

    With regard to Ancient Greece I didn’t say I wanted their attitudes and views taught to young children. However I am happy for alternative life styles of history to be studied by children in secondary schools.

    With regard to Islam the Quran (4.3) states, “And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if you fear that you cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only)…” Therefore Islam allows a man to have up to four wives.

    After the death of Khadija the prophet Muhammad had most likely twelve wives. Some were widows and some were married for political reasons. Muslims see Muhammad as an ideal to imitate. Helen is right to say that some Muslims believe that Sura 4:3 refers to the marrying of widows. However Muslim traditional practice has been to allow men to marry up to four women. Today over 40 countries allow polygnous marriage.

    Therefore Helen has not refuted my point which is that “most people in the UK today will know they are at least two types of marriage – monogamy and polygyny.”

    Helen’s view of the safeguarding of children in marriage seems to be a belief not a truth. It could be that she believes that married people are more responsible for their children and therefore they are more protective towards their children and are better at safeguarding their children.

    However Helen still wants to use terms such as “marriage as it is defined now, links children into the union of the couple – for their lawful protection – this is what is being axed” but it isn’t because the law does not do this exclusively.

    Helen mentions the 1949 Marriage Act. However this act has been amended at least 14 times. The second schedule was repealed (1991) by the Children Act 1989. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/12-13-14/76

    Helen is incorrect in her belief about the current state of the law regarding the rights and responsibilities of parents. The Children Act gives responsibility to both parents when they are married and where the parents are not married to the mother and the father if registered as the father, if there is an agreement or if the court has decided it.

    Helen seems to believe that section 11 of this bill contrary to her quoting schedule 4 changes this law regarding married parents and their responsibility for their children but it does not.

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th May '13 - 12:34pm

    @ Amalric: I would simply ask you to reflect on this reality – religious belief and practice go together.

    In theological terms, within orthodoxy, whether that be Jewish or Christian, tradition is living ie: is understood over time, through continual reflection and debate, biblical truths are interpreted and understood in their fullness.

    If one looks at Judaism, rabbinical commentary – the Talmud and Midrash are almost as important as the Torah. When Lord Sacks says Judaism teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman exclusively – and that Judaism doesn’t do same-sex marriage – he looks not to the literalistic reading of the Torah and the competing comments found at different stages of the Bible’s books but the Torah in the light rabbinical commentary over the past four thousand years – as I have pointed out – Judaism, Christianity and Islam are living and unfolding traditions.

    Richard Dawkins found his literalistic and superficial understanding of the Old Testament God became unstuck when Lord Sacks pointed out to him that his reading of the action of Abraham with Isaac (the attempted sacrifice of obedience to G-d), was not the order of a blood-thirsty G-d but a cry against child-sacrifice in that context – this is the Jewish understanding but Dawkins did not understand that because his reading was hostile and lacking the fullness of understanding.

    Fundamentalists are people who like many outsiders to traditions, read the Bible literalistically and therefore, either come to literalist conclusions or cannot fathom the beliefs of communities today.

    Therefore, when the main religious communities argue passionately against the redefinition of marriage, they do so through centuries of reflection and commentary, and openness to change but not on a whim or literalistically.

  • Kevin McNamara 28th May '13 - 1:24pm

    @ helen tedcastle: if, as is currently progressing, can you clarify that by mother and father, you would only mean genetic parents or by that would you also include a surrogate as a mother?

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th May '13 - 1:36pm

    @Kevin McNamara: A Surrogate mother is either the biological mother who donates her egg and loans out her womb to a couple – or she can simply lend out her womb.

    I don’t really think that this is a sufficient definition of a mother, because a mother is one who intends to bring up their own child as well – or in fact, actually does so.

    Of course, there are cases where children have to be adopted from a very early age, because the mother is incapacitated, can’t cope, dies in childbirth. In that circumstance, of course they will have to be brought up by others – but this should not become the norm alongside the principle of what a mother is and what a father is.

    Adoption or being brought up by those not your natural parents is the exception, not the rule – and I’m sure these parents do a brilliant job in the circumstances.

    The principle in my view should always be, that a child has the right to be brought up by their natural parents – exceptions should not make the rule.

  • Cllr David Noakes 28th May '13 - 6:44pm

    An open letter to Simon Hughes MP

    Dear Simon,

    We are writing in response to your online comments on Liberal Democrat Voice, following your decision to abstain on the third reading of the same sex marriage bill.

    We do so in our capacity as members and officers of your constituency party and elected Liberal Democrat councillors in the London Borough of Southwark. In these positions and roles we have worked closely with you on a day-to-day basis for many years, and in some cases for over 2 decades, to serve our party, fellow residents and constituents.

    To begin with we would like to congratulate the parliamentary party for overwhelmingly supporting same sex marriage, and for working with other members of parliament across the political divide to ensure the bill had a significant majority on its third reading. While there is more work to do before the bill becomes law, we hope and believe the commitment of many members of parliament in both houses, will ensure its successful passage into law.

    Our support for same sex marriage as a council group was made clear when we became probably the first council in England to propose a cross party motion at a Full Council meeting in March 2012 in favour of equal marriage, which was overwhelmingly passed.

    It was therefore with a mixture of anger, dismay and regret that we discovered you had abstained on the third reading, despite same sex marriage being party policy and knowing the strong feelings in favour of this measure of many of your members, activists and constituents.

    We understand your decision to abstain was based on your own personal Christian interpretation of marriage. It is not our intention or position to challenge your beliefs, but we do believe you have put these views ahead of equality, and in doing so have caused deep upset and failed to represent many of your strongest supporters.

    Simon, you have been an excellent member of parliament for over 30 years for the people of Bermondsey and Old Southwark, and have been tireless in the time, work and energy that you have devoted to representing your constituents.

    We do not believe your record as an MP should be judged on this vote alone but we wish to put it on record that as members, officers and councillors we profoundly disagree with your decision not to vote for equal marriage and reaffirm our strong support for equality for all.

    Cllr David Noakes
    Jon Phillips
    Cllr Anood Al-Samerai
    Cllr David Hubber
    Cllr Cathy Bowman
    Damian O’Brien
    Adrian Trett
    Gary Glover
    Cllr Mark Gettleson
    Cllr Poddy Clark
    Cllr Adele Morris
    Cllr Jeff Hook
    Cllr Linda Manchester
    James Fearnley
    Sally Burnell
    Cllr Paul Noblet
    Ben Johnson
    Cllr Rosie Shimell

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th May '13 - 8:44pm

    @ Cllr. David Noakes et al: “We understand your decision to abstain was based on your own personal Christian interpretation of marriage.”

    The current definition of marriage is in accord with Christian teachings, yes but an MP who abstains or votes against the change is no more putting ‘their interpretation’ or using their conscience than any other MP.

    The fact that the law as it stands now is in accordance with Simon’s and others beliefs, should be reflected upon as we are a diverse party which puts a great store by conscience.

    “It is not our intention or position to challenge your beliefs,”

    But that is exactly what you are, in fact, doing.

    “…but we do believe you have put these views ahead of equality, and in doing so have caused deep upset and failed to represent many of your strongest supporters.”

    Simon will speak for himself but as I understand Liberalism, equality and openness to diversity can co-exist at the same time. Having seen Simon at work as a prominent MP for many decades, I cannot think of a person who has fought harder against racism, poverty, and homophobia as a Christian and a Liberal. Being a Christian and a Liberal has never been incompatible with values such as equality – they are intertwined.

    It happens that equality is not ‘sameness’ – it’s the celebration of diversity and equality – as far as I can see, as a simple grassroots member, Simon has been consistent in championing these traditional Liberal values.

  • Has everyone here forgotten that elected President of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, also failed to support the equality legislation?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '13 - 10:45am

    I find the tone of the language from Cllr Noakes et al nasty and illiberal. The way it condemns Simon Hughes while failing to acknowledge all he has written, making false claims about him as some opponent of equality is shameful. If this is what the Liberal Democrats have become, I want nothing to do with the party any more.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '13 - 11:08am

    The arguments on BOTH sides are symbolic. Supporters of gay marriage claim that only the symbolism of using the same word for a legally recognised partnership of same sex and different sex will satisfy “equality”. They will not be satisfied with bringing civil partnerships and marriages together in terms of legal rights. That is fine, but I think they overstep the line when they claim that those who raise symbolic arguments on the other side are opponents of equality as if they wished to deny physical freedoms to gay people.

    The symbolic argument on the other side comes from a wish to retain the idea that marriage is NOT just about “two people who love each other”, but is also about a mutual commitment to bring up children which persists beyond “love”. That is why when supporters of gay marriage say “How can you deny the right of gay people to declare their love in marriage?” they are, to opponents, actually making the case AGAINST gay marriage, because they are demonstrating what opponents are concerned about. I think they (the opponents of gay marriage) are fighting a losing battle, that is, what they want to defend has already been lost, marriage to most people these days is already not seen in their terms even though their terms are what historically it meant.

    When this first became an issue, I intended to remain silent about it. It’s not something I have strong feelings on, though like Simon Hughes I come from a religious background where I have heard the arguments against and perhaps understand then better than most. From this background I know people who are far more worked up about this than I am, and in the end the misrepresentation of their position and personal attacks on them, of the sort we see from Cllr Noakes et al, led me to feel I have a moral obligation not to remain silent. I will support friends and acquaintances when I feel they are under unfair attack. and I feel they are here. Sorry, that is me, and if being me is incompatible with membership of the Liberal Democrats, then I would ask Cllr Noakes et al to confirm that, and I will then submit my resignation from the party.

    Cllr Noakes et al – please reply.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '13 - 11:18am

    Matthew, don’t let others bully you out of the party.

  • Kevin McNamara 29th May '13 - 12:05pm

    @ helen tedcastle: i think we’re coming at roughly the same point here, funnily enough. if it becomes the case that same-sex couples can be parents, genetically, as we are currently seeing becoming scientific reality, then surely you would agree that your own objections to same-sex parenting, and thus marriage, collapse?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '13 - 2:04pm

    Eddie Sammon

    Matthew, don’t let others bully you out of the party.

    It is the leadership of the party which is trying to bully me out of it. I have always made it clear that I won’t accept this, because the leadership is not the party. I have taken comfort in the feeling that if I am unhappy with the leadership, at least the members of the party are, by and large, people I am happy to work with.

    It is not the support for gay marriage from Cllr Noakes et al that makes me unhappy. Of course, opposition to it now is Quixotic, fighting a lost cause which is hardly understood, and so very easily misinterpreted. What makes me unhappy is their unwillingness to accept that others may interpret things differently, and the personal accusations they have thrown at Simon Hughes, of all people, because of that. If they and their attitudes are now representative of the membership of the party, I don’t want to be a member.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th May '13 - 4:53pm

    @ Kevin McNamara: I am not fatalistic about science and the means it gives us to accomplish all sorts of things which a generation ago appeared fanciful.I believe science is a tool which has helped humanity overcome problems in health, the environment and many many other areas. Although it is a force for good, there are areas where ‘advances’ are not beneficial ie: where it appears that the ends justify the means.

    With that in mind, I have to say that I believe children are ends in themselves – that is – they are persons in their own right – and they must be treated as such by society. Therefore, how children come into existence in that society, is of social concern, because of the effects on that child’s emotional and social development.

    @ Matthew Huntbach – Matthew, I am very sympathetic to your deep concerns over this. I hope you read my comments on the Cllr. Noakes et al’ s letter to Simon. I completely agree that in fact this group is unhappy and intolerant that Simon voted the way he did for conscience reasons.

    If it is true that the Lib Dems are becoming less of a party of conscience and more of an intolerant, even militant (in some quarters), secularist party, then I probably won’t renew my membership.

    Thankfully, there are still enough people in it who live and practise real Liberalism and combine that either with religious belief or a genuine humanism which tolerates all.

  • Mr Hughes believes that marriage is ordained by God. He said that is his ‘Credo’ speech on 21st May

    http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=13103&st=15:18:10

    I wonder whether he’s heard of the Reverend Fred A Ross and this publication –

    http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/ABJ1203.0001.001/1?rgn=main;view=image

  • Stephen Hesketh 29th May '13 - 5:54pm

    As a genuine secular humanist, it never ceases to amaze me how people of faith feel it to be their right (and duty) to restrict the freedoms and practices of others based on ancient (but not too ancient!) religious beliefs. Faith groups, like any other in a free society, should have the right to practice their beliefs – but not to such an extent that they infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.

  • @Stephen Hesketh
    As a genuine Christian, it never ceases to amaze me how many people generalise about Christians. A great number of us believe in equal marriage and a great number of us have no wish to restrict others freedoms based upon our faith.

    A rough straw poll amongst my Christian friends showed the vast majority to support equal marriage, many clergy I know are hugely disappointed that they were not consulted before the CofE declared their stance on this.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th May '13 - 8:12pm

    @ Stephen Hesketh: What’s your stance on the redefinition of a word, which has deep roots in this country, which, without a mandate, is about to be redefined? Does your understanding of a free society in which diverse ‘groups’ practise – let’s gloss over history and tradition for the sake of the argument – cover language and meaning? I don’t remember being consulted over the evolution of the language in the 2010 manifestos …

    Or has Eurasia always been at war with Oceania?

  • Stephen Hesketh 29th May '13 - 9:18pm

    @Steve Way – I do of course stand (semi)guilty as accused and am glad to hear of the results of your straw poll.

    @ Helen Tedcaster – I rather think the constitution makes the point far better than I could … “Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.”

    Yes, I fully accept that historically marriage has been between a man and a woman but the right of non-hetrosexuals to equal marriage seems to me vastly more important than the historical definition of a word.

    I am a happily married family man. I do not see that any person or group of persons has the right to deny the same love, support and companionship to someone else just because they happen to love someone of the same sex.

    That, in spite of being given opt-out safeguards themselves, the majority of religious groups still seek to block equal marriage is not acceptable in a modern democratic libertarian society.

    Talking of history, once adopted by the Roman emperors, Christianity was usually far more concerned with matters of (poor peoples) sexuality than questioning the accumulation and abuse of wealth and power. Also, if I were a pagan, I would feel very aggrieved that the Christians hadn’t mention the appropriation of the winter and spring festivals in their manifesto. Would you believe it they even changed their names!

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th May '13 - 9:52pm

    @ Stephen Hesketh: I enjoyed your highly selective and rather partisan telling of western european history.

    ” the majority of religious groups still seek to block equal marriage is not acceptable in a modern democratic libertarian society.”

    Except that marriage between a man and a woman only is actually the law now they and others are defending a principle which has been accepted in our society up until Cameron decided he wanted to ‘detoxify’ the Tory brand.

    The constitution makes no mention of marriage being a bastion of entrenched privilege – especially so as equal civil rights have already been won. This is not an issue of rights or equality. It’s about the appropriation of a word with a long-established meaning and appropriating it to mean something else.

    There is no mandate for this and we believe in democracy?

  • @ Helen Tedcastle
    “There is no mandate for this and we believe in democracy?”
    Even Simon Hughes accepts he’s in the minority on this issue

  • Stephen Hesketh 29th May '13 - 10:42pm

    @Helen Tedcastle. Thank you and apologies for misspelling your name! But I do make serious historical points. History is always written by the victor.

    Ah, the law. One of the key roles of our MPs is to reflect the changing views of society in new and updated laws. Slavery was once completely legal and almost certainly supported by the Church. – as would have been trial by combat, ducking stools and burning people of other faiths.

    Sadly in quoting me you omitted my words “in spite of being given opt-out safeguards themselves”. As Caron posted, “That is that if he believes that marriage between a man and a woman, that’s his choice. Why should his view be imposed on others “. Or more humorously, I think by Andreas earlier – all those who don’t like same-sex marriage have a simple solution – Don’t marry someone of the same sex.

    And my final point – whilst I completely disagree with their logic and conclusions, our party would be profoundly the poorer without the likes of Simon and the other MPs who found it impossible to support this particular mildly reforming Bill.

  • @ Stephen Hesketh – “Yes, I fully accept that historically marriage has been between a man and a woman”

    @ Helen Tedcastle – “Except that marriage between a man and a woman only is actually the law”

    Culturally there have been different types of marriage across the world. However I do accept that historically in this country most of the time since c.1215 marriage has been defined in law as between one man and one women at one time. However I think it is possible that the current welfare law may recognize certain marriages between one man and more than one women at a time.

    @ Helen Tedcastle – “It’s about the appropriation of a word (marriage) with a long-established meaning and appropriating it to mean something else.”

    The meaning of marriage has changed over time and within different cultures as I have already pointed out.

    @ Helen Tedcastle – “Judaism … looks not to the literalistic reading of the Torah and the competing comments found at different stages of the Bible’s books but the Torah in the light rabbinical commentary over the past four thousand years – as I have pointed out – Judaism, Christianity and Islam are living and unfolding traditions”; “openness to change”.

    It can be argued that Judaism had two traditions – priestly and prophetic and that God decided to end the priestly one with the intervention of the Romans and the destruction of the Temple and the ending of priests and sacrifice. So I agree that Judaism is open to change and therefore in the future some of it can come to accept same sex marriages as do some parts of Christianity.

    Sometimes Helen appears to be making the conservative argument that says we should keep this the same because it has been traditionally so. However for those who believe in any reform or any change each proposal has to be argued on its merits and not on the basis of tradition.

    Sometimes Helen now seems to be making a conservative Judaeo-Christian argument against same sex marriage and there is nothing illogical about such a position. However once someone with a Judaeo-Christian religious faith accepts that gay relationships are not unacceptable to God I can’t see any reason not to accept that same sex marriage is also acceptable to God (especially as the Old Testament does it explicitly state God created marriage as between one man and one women even if certain sections of the Christian tradition interpret the Bible so).

    The lack of internal logic is why I have a problem with Simon Hughes’ position while disagreeing with the Catholic Church and fundamentalist Christians I accept their positions are based on a logical faith, just one I disagree with.

  • Amalric

    Have to beg to differ with your last paragraph, rest is very well put though

    Their position is logical based upon their faith, I would not say that the faith itself is ‘logical’

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th May '13 - 10:18am

    @ Stephen Hesketh: “One of the key roles of our MPs is to reflect the changing views of society in new and updated laws.”

    Our MPs are not mandated by the party to vote in the way the party members wish. They are representatives in a representative democracy. There was a free vote on this issue – Simon and other MPs voted according to conscience – as a Liberal, I attach a high value to conscience on moral issues like this one.

    Liberals have always been tolerant of dissenting views – I hope this does not change and is not changing.

    As I have argued further up the thread – this is not a matter of equal rights – the civil liberties were already in place – this is not our Rosa Parks moment.

    We could spend hours on how Christians have campaigned to fight oppression down the centuries but I am going to acknowledge that the Christian establishment has not been perfect by any means – the Church is comprised of imperfect people, some of whom ignored Christian teaching to pursue their own ends by any means necessary.

    On slavery, there were those who were slave owners who called themselves God-fearing Christians but there were many others who were dead against it , Pastors who formed Christian churches in slave areas who taught dignity and respect for all people, regardless of colour. Their consciences, beliefs and practice as Christians, impelled them to protest and change the law. William Wilberforce was a Christian. On civil liberties, Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister.

    Your point about marriage being a ‘choice’ in the way described, is the argument of the market – I disagree that this is about choice linked to the definition of marriage itself, rather than a choice of partner in a relationship, because marriage describes a particular complementary union which does not mean something else. It is linked to families and children for the renewal and benefit of wider society – the common good.

    I am passionate for equality on the grounds of sexual orientation, race, gender but question fundamentally the argument that this issue has anything at all to do with it. As a Liberal I am comfortable to live in a vibrant and diverse society where none are enslaved by poverty, ignorance and in this case, conformity.

    On your final point – this is not a mildly reforming bill – if it was, do you think we would still be discussing it or that over 660,000 people would be signing a petition against the plan?

  • Nick Townsend 30th May '13 - 12:16pm

    Simon Hughes, well worth waiting for. How apt this remains. (I am pleased to credit it, at least plausibly, to the brilliant, funny Andy Harrison, RIP, youngest YL of his moment, who proposed it as Simon’s slogan for the 87 election.)

    I haven’t contributed to Lib Dem Voice before and do so with hesitation. I’m a former party member who was hoping to re-join post-2010, before being badly put off by avoidable, serious mistakes and failings by Lib Dems in government, including re. the economy, HE, the NHS and, yes, same-sex marriage. If I’d joined again, it would have been in Southwark and I’d like to comment on the Southwark officers and cllrs’ post (28th, 6.44pm). (Much appreciation to Anood for seeking to persuade me to get involved.)

    While there’s a lot in Simon’s speeches on the day of Third Reading and his post here three days later that would have been better said in advance of Second Reading, nevertheless they were well worth waiting for. What they help to show, perhaps more than any other Lib Dem’s statement at any point so far, is that what is at stake in this issue is just larger, deeper and more difficult than the low-quality public debate so far has brought out. For one thing, this is the biggest moment of conflict between Church and State for many decades. Simon lives fully in both the church world and the liberal political world. This is what makes his particular political ‘journey’ (sorry, can’t think of a better word right now) so impressive.

    By his stance on this issue he has, as it were, placed himself at the centre of that conflict, rightly. Who would want to go there, given the abuse that flies around this issue? What a courageous thing to do. He deserves total respect. (As it happens, more Christian MPs than did so, especially in Labour – credit to Stephen Timms – should have had the guts to do the same.)

    Matthew Huntbach finds “the tone of the language from Cllr Noakes et al [the Southwark Lib Dems] nasty and illiberal”. I don’t agree. Rather there’s only one problem with the Southwark LDs’ contribution, but it goes to the very heart of the issue.

    They say “It is not our intention or position to challenge your beliefs, but we do believe you have put these views ahead of equality”. Here, as at one or two other points, they imply that commitment to equality gives sufficient reason for why same-sex marriage must be supported.

    The problem is that most Liberal Democrats – despite liberalism’s fundamental commitment to reason in politics – have not used reason rigorously enough to think critically about this. Appeal to equality per se, or to equality under the law, is logically not sufficient to justify support for same-sex marriage. Rather, rhetorical appeal to equality has become a kind of 2010s legitimising myth for a certain use of state power, one which as a side effect legitimises attribution of hatred to all dissenters (cf. Peter Tatchell in the Evening Standard, 21 May.) (What could be more corrosive of liberal society than this?)

    In the briefest summary, appeal to equality per se is not sufficient to justify support for s-s marriage for the following reason. Equality is neither a synonym for sameness, nor requires sameness in legal description (rather, the basic point of appealing to equality is to achieve justice for things that are different) – but a convincing argument for sameness in legal description would be needed to justify s-s marriage.

    Does that sentence sound like gobbledegook? If it does, that might be because it is – but I don’t think it is.

    It seems to me – fully open to counter argument – that the basic problem around this whole issue is that new myths have developed which are now very widely accepted as sufficient to justify this policy, but rigorous rational scrutiny shows they don’t. I say myths, plural, as there is a similar myth that commitment to anti-discrimination requires same-sex marriage. I’ve not written on LDV before, but I’ve tried to articulate these lines of argument previously, including in a long letter to Lib Dem leaders last summer, and in a submission to the Commons Bill Committee (here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmpublic/marriage/memo/m120.htm. ) In the latter I try to show, pretty fully, that the argument from anti-discrimination is, in the end, fallacious: it assumes its conclusion in one of its premises.

    Of course, even if the main two arguments that have been widely embraced on the left for s-s marriage are not cogent, there is still a real debate to be had. This should be a liberal debate in which there is authentic respect for people who hold different convictions and genuine openness to reasonable argument. But this liberal, difficult, deep debate has not yet taken place. Maybe the HoL will enable it to start. They need have no qualms about not accepting what they’re receiving from the Commons because (leaving aside the democratic deficit and constitutional/procedural anomalies – didn’t Liberal Democrats used to believe, for good reason, in the importance of constitutional processes?) it doesn’t rest on good arguments.

    This post is too long. If anyone gets this far, thanks for reading! There are many other issues that s-s marriage raises – that’s the point. All credit to Simon Hughes for making a contribution that puts across that this subject is just much bigger and more difficult than most proponents of the Bill have thought. No doubt he is as committed to equality as anyone.

    Nick

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th May '13 - 2:02pm

    @ Amalric: I doubt very much that orthodox Judaism will go against the Talmud and biblical law of four thousand years and change the meaning of marriage – to appeal to the mood in society. As I posted earlier to you, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes that quite clear – Judaism doesn’t do same-sex marriage.

    “However for those who believe in any reform or any change each proposal has to be argued on its merits and not on the basis of tradition.”

    I think you are labouring under a misapprehension of Christianity in its understanding of itself (and Judaism too). For Christians tradition is living, not static. Certainly some spin off groups are ultra-traditionalists, as there are extreme liberal groups. The former see their religion as static, not open to change, so that even rituals and rubric never alter from one generation to the next.

    That is not how most Christians who think about it see tradition – there are essentials, the key teachings and the incidentals. It takes understanding and discernment to separate the two. In the case of marriage, this discernment is clear – the essential is the couple themselves – the male and female – the incidentals are that which are open to change – the order of service for instance. How does one arrive at such a judgement? As I have pointed out – centuries of reflection, writing done by scholars, teachers, leaders – in the case of Judaism, rabbinical commentary and study.

    Tradition is the social embodiment of centuries of thought and reflection which lived out and practised in the community. It is neither conservative. liberal nor centrist – these are political labels.

    Then sometime in 2010/11, Dave Cameron decided to ignore all of that and blithely wack some changes through parliament … his level of ignorance on the subject is breathtaking.

    @ Nick Townsend – I couldn’t agree more.

  • Ruth Bright 30th May '13 - 8:27pm

    Why has the Southwark letter been hidden away here and not in a separate opinion piece?

  • Vivien Palmer 30th May '13 - 11:48pm

    Well done Simon for what you have shared. It is interesting that the process for the Same Sex Marriage Bill is neither ‘Liberal’ nor ‘Democratic’ which leaves me asking, is there an agenda for rushing the bill through so quickly?
    Also there seems to be an irrational amount of anger directed against marriage in our society. Is this really about equality or is there something else at stake?

  • Apologies there was a mistake in my last post – (especially as the Old Testament does it explicitly state God created marriage as between one man and one women even if certain sections of the Christian tradition interpret the Bible so)

    Correction – (especially as the Old Testament does NOT explicitly state God created marriage as between one man and one women even if certain sections of the Christian tradition interpret the Bible so)

    @ bcrombie – Their position is logical based upon their faith, I would not say that the faith itself is ‘logical’

    Thank you – “based logically on their faith” is much better.

    @ Helen Tedcastle

    I purposely didn’t use the term “Orthodox Judaism”. I do not believe that Orthodox Judaism allows female rabbis but “some of it (Judaism)” does.

    “For Christians tradition is living, not static.” Therefore traditions can change. For Anglicans the tradition once was there could be no female vicars, now that tradition has changed and there can be female vicars.

    It appears Helen is saying tradition can be changed but the marriage tradition can’t. She wants to have it both ways.

    @ Nick Townsend

    In his submission (reference given above) Nick Townsend uses the term traditional marriage for his marriage type A. It is not the only type of traditional marriage in history. Also he defines marriage by what is being changed which is problematic as a starting point. However his marriage type B is today widely accepted and should not be rejected as the modern every day definition of what is meant by marriage.

    In his Briefing for Christian Parliamentarians (http://klice.co.uk/uploads/13%2002%20KLICE%20s-s%20marriage%20briefing%20pdf.pdf) Nick Townsend states marriage is “a gift of God in creation” (p7). However he does not challenge the validity of this assertion by the Anglican Church in light of the Protestant Reformation. Therefore his premise that marriage is a gift of God and not a construct of political authority is not tested. Marriage is clearly a creation of society as it exists in most societies but is defined differently. Anthropologists have struggled to define it. It might be said that marriage can only truly be defined “in terms of sexual access rights” this enables all forms of marriage within all cultures to be included.

    However it is the Christian interpretation that Nick Townsend has set out that I wish to challenge. He clearly states that marriage is not the same in heaven (p7). Protestants have a tradition of rejecting the church’s tradition and instead going back to what the Bible states. In this case Jesus says, the resurrected “are like angels in heaven” (Mk 12:25). Paul agrees with Jesus that the resurrected will have heavenly bodies or as he calls them “celestial bodies” (1 Cor 15:40). Angels are neither male nor female therefore so are the resurrected and this is why the woman who had seven husbands on earth will be the wife of none in heaven (Mk 12:18-25).

    It appears to me that the idea that God has created something which is only suitable for humankind while they are on earth and not in heaven is strange and brings into question how far God is just accepting marriage rather than creating it for humankind for all time.

    Nick Townsend does not discuss “But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor 7:2) and “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7:8-9). There is nothing here about marriage being ordained by God. It appears that marriage is second best. It is a protection from immorality and this appears to me to be the Christian meaning and use for marriage. It is therefore here where Christians should support same sex marriage assuming they support same sex sexual relations. In the same way that couples of differing sexes should be married to avoid immorality so should same sex couples.

  • Helen Tedcastle 31st May '13 - 9:56am

    @Amalric: I am not sure what you are getting at regarding Judaism. The Torah teaches that a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife and the two become one flesh (Genesis). I’m not sure how much more explicit it has to be before you would accept what is being expressed. I have given you the words of the Chief Rabbi himself – if that is still not satisfactory then we’ll have to leave it there.

    On traditions: I was very careful to give you an explanation regarding tradition as Christianity understands it – it does not mean that core teaching ie: that male and female marry in an exclusive union, change – that is the whole point!

    The Anglicans are reflecting on women priests as a matter of Church law. This Church has a greater number of evangelicals than catholics so there has been a long debate on what tradition means.Tradition is open to change and yet it can only be done on reflection of the sources (as I have explained) and grappling with the question of whether the change is within the tradition of the one catholic church (with Catholics and Orthodox). Those opposed argue the change can only happen along with Catholics and Orthodox as then it reflects the view of the whole church – others argue it is up to the Anglicans alone to make the change.

    The view of tradition put forward is not mine but based on theological reflection down the ages.It probably reflects the Catholic view than the Anglican but the point is the issues are complex not easy to ‘wack through’ (as Boris Johnson asserted) without a proper consultation.

    There are movements/groups on either extremity of the mainstream – traditionalists and, for want of a better word, liberals but the main ‘river’ of living tradition carries on. So far from wanting it ‘both ways’ I am explaining that this issue is far more nuanced than the media and cheerleaders for gay marriage would have us believe.

  • Helen Tedcastle 31st May '13 - 7:53pm

    @ Amalric: Forgive me for getting involved in a set of points you are making to Nick Townsend but in view of no reply as yet from him, may I venture a few comments:

    ” It appears to me that the idea that God has created something which is only suitable for humankind while they are on earth and not in heaven is strange and brings into question how far God is just accepting marriage rather than creating it for humankind for all time.”

    The reason why Nick can write that marriage is a gift of God in creation is for the following reason: the marriage union reflects the Genesis creation account, where male and female are to be helpmates of one another (post the Fall) and pre-Fall it is made clear that for God’s goodness and plenitude in creation to be fulfilled, Adam the typology of mankind is joined by woman, Eve or ‘life.’ There are other theological points that could be made such as marriage and its celebration reflects the eschatological banquet and the love of Christ for his Church etc..but this is a key one.

    “For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7:8-9). There is nothing here about marriage being ordained by God. ”

    This is because Paul is dealing with question in the Corinthian Church regarding the end times – remember, this was an apocalyptic age and the church was concerned with whether marriage was really necessary – Paul answers that given the imminence of the end, getting married is not the priority but preparation and discipline in mind and body for more spiritual matters. Of course, as the Church expanded and developed, marriage was practised – as it was in Judaism.

    I’m summarising and simplifying because this is a non-theological thread but again, it serves to illustrate the depth of the meaning of marriage in our culture and history, which is too often overlooked for a variety of reasons.

  • @ Helen Tedcastle – “I have given you the words of the Chief Rabbi himself” Helen gave a web page reference. Here are some words from that piece, “Last year, in its official response to the government’s consultation on equal marriage for England and Wales, the office of the Chief Rabbi stated that Jewish Law prohibited “the practice of homosexuality,” and it argued against all same-sex unions, and same-sex marriages.”

    This is the same position as the Catholic Church and as I have amended it – I believe that their position is based logically on their faith.

    In the Genesis story woman is flesh of the flesh of the man so it makes sense they are one flesh. In Gen 2:24 the Hebrew word translated as wife is the same word used for woman in verse 22. Therefore there is no marriage in this story it is only implied. In fact there is no word used in biblical Hebrew for marriage as well as wife.

    As I have already pointed out the Torah allows a man to have more than one wife (but in fact more than one woman) therefore while on earth it would seem that one man and a number of women would all become one flesh.

    My issue with Helen might just be her imprecise use of language. Marriage within Christianity does have a traditional meaning however Helen appeared to be saying this traditional meaning is outside of Christianity as well and that is what I refute. The idea that a traditional view of marriage within Christianity or Judaism is unchangeable is not a fact it is a point of view. It is the possibility of change that I was allowing based on changes in the past. There is no agreement on what the core faith of Christianity is and I have had many a happy discussion on this issue and admit the idea that marriage was in there somewhere just never came up.

    If Helen had clearly stated she was stating a Catholic view this discussion would have been a lot briefer. I think I have also brought nuances to the table.

    The idea that Paul is dealing with the imminence of the end is a view but it does not have to be the only view. The point I was making against Nick Townsend’s brief was the lack of the presentation of alternative Christian views.

    This discussion of marriage leads into the Ten Commandments and the idea of adultery. It could be said that God does not wish a man to have sexual relations with the woman or partner of another man in the same way he doesn’t want a man to steal or desire the processions of another man. Once it is recognized that marriage is not mentioned by God in the Old Testament the idea that it was ordained by him fails and we can look at what God really wants people to do. It would appear that God is talking about sexual access, exclusivity and maybe fidelity. Therefore as a Christian it is possible not to believe God created marriage, as it is possible to believe he is happy with same sex couples having sexual relations and he will be happy with same sex marriages.

  • Helen Tedcastle 1st Jun '13 - 10:26am

    @ Amalric: ” … Helen appeared to be saying this traditional meaning is outside of Christianity as well and that is what I refute. The idea that a traditional view of marriage within Christianity or Judaism is unchangeable is not a fact it is a point of view.”

    The Chief Rabbi states the position clearly: Jewish biblical law is explicit – marriage is between a man and a woman:

    The submission to the parliamentary committee on gay marriage states, “Marriage, by definition in Jewish (biblical) law is the union of a male and a female.

    “While Judaism teaches respect for others and condemns all types of discrimination, we oppose a change to the definition of marriage that includes same-sex relationships. Jewish (biblical) law prohibits the practice of homosexuality.”
    see link: http://www.cinews.ie/article.php?artid=10390 and the Jewish Chronicle: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/68993/chief-rabbi-will-oppose-gay-marriage

    On polygamous relationships – if these are recorded in the Bible amongst early Jewish communities then this is still not an argument for same-sex marriage – the reference is explicit that a husband has to provide for his wife or in this instance (2) wives. If anything this is an argument for polygamy if one takes away the biblical law and simply enforces the practices found.

    One can also go back to the Babylonian Talmud, which forbids the writing of marriage contracts for homosexuals:

    “‘Ula said: Non-Jews [litt. Bnei Noach, the progeny of Noah] accepted upon themselves thirty mitzvot [divinely ordered laws] but they only abide by three of them: the first one is that they do not write marriage documents for male couples, the second one is that they don’t sell dead [human] meat by the pound in stores and the third one is that they respect the Torah.'”

    While early Judaism and indeed Jewish marriage ceremonies today centre on the signing of the marriage contract and emphasises obligations from a man to a woman, it is regarded as commanded by God that a man and a woman come together to create a relationship in which God is directly involved.[Deut. 24:1] Though procreation is not the sole purpose, a Jewish marriage is also traditionally expected to fulfill the commandment to have children.[Gen. 1:28] In this view, marriage is understood to mean that the husband and wife are merging into a single soul, which is why a man is considered “incomplete” if he is not married, as his soul is only one part of a larger whole that remains to be unified.This is stipulated in the Babylonian Talmud.

    “Therefore as a Christian it is possible not to believe God created marriage,”

    The case is not made as biblical law is clear and Jesus was a Jew – there is no evidence at all that Jesus approved of same-sex marriage, although there is a clear reference to his disapproval of adultery and approval of male-female marriage:

    Mark 10: 2ff. “Jesus answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,[a] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

    I think that is pretty clear. Marriage is ordained as between one man and one woman in an exclusive relationship.

    Whichever way one looks at the evidence, there is no precedent for same-sex marriage in biblical law – it is a new idea (in the case of England and Wales, since around 2010 when it became a possibility in law thanks to Dave Cameron), which places the mood or the zeitgeist ahead of biblical and cultural norms.

  • To steal a line from the office

    ‘and so what are elves then?’

    To be honest I don’t give any weight to what the bible says – a 2000 year old book by a primitive civilisation defining whether two people in love can call themselves married!

    If we disestablished the church then at least we wouldn’t have to take much notice of what the church wants when it comes to law

  • Nick Townsend 1st Jun '13 - 1:41pm

    @Almaric: Thanks for reading those other documents – it’s welcome to know someone has.

    When distinguishing in the submission to the Bill Committee, for the purpose of clarity in argument, between ‘Marriage A’ and ‘Marriage B’, I said that these may well not be the only ones at stake even in the current debate, and no doubt there have been conceptions differing from both historically. To this extent I agree with you. However I do think that in the current debate there are these two main conceptions and, while other labels may be appropriate, ‘traditional’ isn’t an inaccurate one for A.

    One reason it’s a reasonable label is that Marriage A has remained the same in some basic respects for an astonishingly long time (notably: it’s a male-female relationship; it’s a sexual relationship, as has been clear in the way the law has recognised it; it should be monogamous, even though polygamy doesn’t make it not marriage; those entering it commit to it being lifelong and to sexual fidelity…. I guess one could extend this list, including saying something about the children that there’s a fair chance through a long period of life that a couple’s sexual relationship enable them to have – though saying this in exactly the right way isn’t easy ). Of course, there have been changes too (notably the gradual acceptance since the sixteenth century of a wider list of justifications for divorce ).

    In centuries of English literature, read ‘marriage’ and the word conveys that ‘package’. As I’ve said before, there is nothing wrong in any way with a language having a word for that, a word that refers to that category in the world. It looks like the State will succeed in its authoritarian move to change this meaning – I really did think it was basic to liberalism to resist this kind of thing – but, even if it does, it won’t mean there would be anything unacceptable in people using the word in that traditional sense (though I suppose in some circumstances they’d risk prosecution), or coining a new one.

    On one other point, you raise a q about why I say in the Briefing that Christian teaching has been that marriage is for this life only. You say “It appears to me that the idea that God has created something which is only suitable for humankind while they are on earth and not in heaven is strange “. It may be strange, but all I was doing was describing standard Christian teaching, past and present, namely that marriage is for this life only. This finds explicit expression in the words in the marriage service “til death do us part”. Cue jokes about 1970s sitcom – but we didn’t have a TV while I was growing up which probably explains a lot.

    You refer to other things I don’t mention in that Briefing – but it was long enough anyway. There are many other points that could have been included. (Arguably the last section is the most important bit of it, sec. 6, even though it’s not about the marriage issue, but about the deeper/wider crisis of superficial public conversation this whole thing demonstrates beyond doubt; cf the brilliant work of Michael Sandel.)

    @Helen T, thank you for the support. You say, “The reason why Nick can write that marriage is a gift of God in creation is for the following reason: the marriage union reflects the Genesis creation account….” I’d like to add to this.

    The reason why this issue raises a basic church/state clash is related to but even more fundamental than that. The teaching of Jesus himself obviously has unique status in Christianity, and according the Gospels (I’m well aware of debates about historicity, interpretation, etc.), there was only one point on which Jesus himself appealed back to the way God had created things to be. This was on marriage, in Mark 10 / Matt 19. This is why the CofE says (in every marriage service it conducts) that marriage “is a gift of God in creation”. This is why the CofE in its briefing for the Marriage Bill Second Reading had this as its first sentence (after the opening summary): “The Church of England holds, as a matter of doctrine and in accordance with the teaching of Christ, that marriage is a union of one man with one woman.”

    Christian affirmation that marriage of its nature is a male-female relationship comes from the most authoritative source in Christianity. Obviously for people who aren’t Christians, this has no direct relevance, and they needn’t pay it attention. (Cf. @bcrombie, ‘and so what are elves then?’) Yes, development over time in Christian teaching takes place, on many matters. But what the main historic Christian denominations teach, in this respect, about marriage isn’t going to change in a hurry.

    Given that the liberal political tradition’s roots lie de facto in Christianity (and it will die if it cuts them off, i’d argue – not a topic for right now), the least that current non-Christian representatives of this political tradition could do is recognise that this issue does raise a massive issue of church-state relations, and then be willing to give the space, time and mental effort to address it in this context. The bizarre quadruple locks arrangement is testimony to the issue not being addressed, not to a resolution.

    Apols for not posting again sooner – as was noted – but there’s the day job, etc.

    Nick

  • Helen Tedcastle 1st Jun '13 - 5:53pm

    @ Nick Townsend: Thanks for your comments – your explanation of the ‘thin reasoning ‘ behind the same-sex marriage Bill’s proposals in the parliamentary briefing is excellent – I found myself agreeing with the logic and reasoning throughout.

    I have picked out some key points:

    “The argument from unjust discrimination holds only if the voluntarist conception of marriage
    is already accepted.”

    Absolutely right – what legislators are being asked to do is to redefine marriage to reduce it to a univocal meaning – a free, personal commitment. The proposers of the Bill seem to have put out of their minds the second part of marriage – the openness to the procreative part. The second part is a key constituent of marriage.

    If justice is the aim of the legislation then it appears to be only for same-sex couples and children of their natural parents are forgotten. However, as you explain, justice has little to do with this Bill.

    “The argument from unjust discrimination has no purchase as an argument against the traditional conception of marriage. It rests on a category mistake. What the law is recognising in providing for marriage is a certain kind of male-female relationship. There can be nothing wrong with the law doing this, even though the law can and should also provide for people in same-sex relationships.”

    Exactly right. As civil partnerships bring same-sex and other-sex couples into equality with each other in terms of rights, the ‘justice’ argument is not relevant. As marriage is a category on its own which does not discriminate in and of itself, it is indeed a category error to call it something it is not.

    I think like you, that civil partnerships are such a recent innovation, they have not had the time to bed down in culture. Whether the new definition or voluntarist marriage will bed down in culture after being imposed is a moot point.

    I do hope that the Lords, in their wisdom, consider these issues with great care and consideration – and not with the sentimental and emotional reasoning witnessed too often in the Commons, which supposedly passed for debate.

  • Its deeply offensive to childless married couples to keep trotting out this line about marriage and procreation. A marriage does not have to be blessed with children to be treasured. Tradition is a moveable feast. Its interesting to see who is dragging their feet on this issue, your forebears would have held similar positions on interracial and interfaith marriages. Personally I am straight, married with children, and I simply dont see why some people are getting their knickers into such a twist on this, and why we pay so much heed to religious fundamentalists on this issue.

  • Helen Tedcastle 1st Jun '13 - 6:53pm

    @ Alistair: It is not deeply offensive at all to married people like me who have no children. Some may be offended but the point is that marriage and openness to the prospect of children are not incompatible. Often one does not know or cannot predict in advance how life and circumstance will actually turn out.

    To separate the two parts of marriage and to redefine it as a voluntaristic agreement, is a category error as Nick Townsend explains.

    This issue has nothing to do with justice or civil rights , as you would see if you read the earlier comments.

  • Helen

    Aren’t you concerned about how pompous you sound , especially when quoting passages from a 2000 year book?

  • Your two parts of marriage are arbitrary. I can explain at length to you how a marriage does not have to be blessed with children to be valuable. In this day and age, people can take medical tests before marriage and many will enter into marriage in the full knowledge that it will not bear children. If you want to pretend that as long as the married couple are heterosexual, God can visit a miracle upon them to fulfill their openness to children, and that this could not happen to a same sex couple, therefore a same sex couple cannot have a valid marriage then you are clutching at straws. The Church does not own marriage. Even when it did, it bent rules on anulment and divorce, marriage has always evolved. This is not voluntarism. This is progress.

  • Helen Tedcastle 1st Jun '13 - 11:10pm

    @ Alistair: Please read the comments I made and those of others, more carefully as I’m pretty sure you haven’t read them judging by this last comment- no one is pretending anything – in fact, free consent has to be made in front of witnesses and the couple have to understand the rights and responsibilities. In life, even the arrival or non-arrival of children/ changes in circumstances are not easily predicted in every case, even in 2013.

    Openness to children is the free acceptance that, should they born, the parents promise security and protection – is this unreasonable? It is certainly not arbitrary – it’s common sense and natural justice for the children born.

    This aspect also benefits the common good of society – something Liberals have normally favoured. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand with marriage and this is perfectly defined in law right now.

    Civil rights are not at issue – the meaning of the word marriage and all that it implies, is the issue.

  • Just wondering. What do Simon Hughes’ supporters think about this decision by the ECHR?

    http://www.christian.org.uk/news/christian-registrar-denied-european-court-appeal/

  • @ Helen Tedcastle

    Lord Sacks does not speak on behalf of all of Judaism within Britain, in the same way that Justin Welby does not speak for all Christians (I expect he doesn’t speak all Anglicans either). I have clearly put Lord Sacks’ views in the same category as those of the Catholic Church and fundamentalist Christians – It is based on one version of their faith, but this version of their faith rejects the practice of homosexuality and therefore before any discussion of same sex marriage can take place, one would have to change their beliefs regarding God and the practice of homosexuality, which I feel is not part of this discussion because I have assumed we all agree there is nothing wrong with the practice of homosexuality. Therefore as I believe Lord Sacks is wrong about his belief regarding the practice of homosexuality his opinion on marriage carries less weight with me because he is already mistaken. There is no point in quoting Lord Sacks when I have already demonstrated that Jewish Law (The Torah) allows a man to have more than one woman (wife).

    It is good to see the Talmud quoted even if no reference is given. However it does not do what Helen states it does. The Talmud is only really evidence for what Jewish rabbis were teaching in the past and I don’t know how authoritative they are in Orthodox Judaism or Reform Judaism or Liberal Judaism. I would be surprised if Judaism today teaches that when someone marries the husband and wife merge into one soul. Maybe Helen has got confused with Bashert – soul mate.

    I don’t know what Helen thinks Deut. 24:1 states but this is one way it could be translated but not how it is usually translated, “When a man takes a woman and he processes her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house” (remembering there is no biblical Hebrew word for wife or marriage).

    I agree that for a Christian Mk 10:2ff could be a problem, however many Christians put more emphasis on the idea that God did allow divorce and so accept divorce (Deut. 24:1). Lots of Christians accept that marriage is not necessary between one man and one women for life but a man or a woman can marry many times after divorcing previous spouses. However as Nick Townsend has suggested for a liberal Christian there is always historical criticism and the Genesis text in Mark 10:1-12 is based on the Greek Septuagint known to Mark rather than the Hebrew text known to Jesus. (In fact the Greek of Mark 10:7-8 is identical to Ephesians 5:31 as well as the Greek Septuagint of Genesis 2:24.) Also Mark talks here about marriage as known to Romans rather than known to 1st century Jews of Palestine.

    Helen mentions Gen 1:28. There is no mention of marriage in this verse. However it is part of the first creation story in Genesis, while verse 2:24 is in the second creation story. The first part uses word Elohim for God while the second uses the words Yahweh Elohim. It is generally accepted that 1:1-2:3 is part of Priestly source and 2:4-3:24 part of Yahwist source from the southern kingdom of Judah. Elohim creates man (Adam) in 1:27 male and female, while Yahweh creates man (Adam) in 2:7 and woman in 2:22.

    I agree with Helen neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament clearly state that same sex marriage are a good thing. However this does not mean that we can’t interpret the text to include same sex marriage in the same way as we allow divorce and same sex sexual relations.

    @ Nick Townsend – “Of course, there have been changes too (notably the gradual acceptance since the sixteenth century of a wider list of justifications for divorce).”

    This seems to accept that divorce was acceptable to the Catholic Church before this. King Louis VII obtained from a divorce from Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152 so she could marry Henry of Anjou the future King Henry II. This was approved by Pope Eugene III. In history we learnt that Henry VIII divorced two of his wives. He applied to Pope Clement VII for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and later he divorced Anne of Cleves.

    Nick Townsend seems to suggest that the Anglican Church only teaches that marriage is until death. However since 2002 the Anglican Church now only, “wishes all who marry a lifetime of love that grows within God’s protection. But we recognise that some marriages do fail for all sorts of sad and painful reasons” (http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/marriage,-family-and-sexuality-issues/divorce.aspx). Now whether a divorced person can remarry in the Anglican Church is at the discretion of the vicar.

  • Helen Tedcastle 2nd Jun '13 - 9:34am

    @ Amalric: ” I would be surprised if Judaism today teaches that when someone marries the husband and wife merge into one soul. Maybe Helen has got confused with Bashert – soul mate.”

    Meaning he, the male, is incomplete if he remains unmarried…

    The description is theological arising from the text: Babylonian Talmud, Yebomoth, 62b.

    “I don’t know how authoritative they are in Orthodox Judaism or Reform Judaism or Liberal Judaism”

    In Orthodoxy, the Talmud has a very high importance, It is the central text of rabbinic Judaism, second only to the Torah.

    If you are going to use the tool of historical criticism to dissect the Bible , it is not surprising that the texts are not interpreted according to thousands of years of tradition and self-understanding of the Churches and the leading Jewish community (which probably explains the casual dismissal of the Chief Rabbi and the Catholic/Orthodox Churches).

    Historical criticism is not the only tool for interpretation of scripture and it tends to be used by extreme ‘liberal’ scholars. It is useful for background – all scholars should be aware of it but it is a tool and not determinative of faith or self-identity in my view. It is interesting that one of the major criticisms of it is that these scholars read their own presuppositions (from their own time) into the Bible and find what they want to find.

    One is not a fundamentalist if one sees historical criticism in its place alongside tradition – it does not mean that the Bible is read literalistically at all – in fact, rabbinic criticism and theological commentary enhance and deepen our understanding of scripture and should not be so lightly dismissed in favour of a 19th century methodology.

  • @ Helen Tedcastle – “probably explains the casual dismissal of the Chief Rabbi and the Catholic/Orthodox Churches).” The dismissal of Orthodox Judaism, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches and Christian fundamentalist is because they do not share the same view of same sex sexual relations as we do and their faith is their stumbling block. As their assumptions are so different they are outside of this discussion but could be included in a different discussion.

    I couldn’t find Yebomoth 62b on the internet. I found Yebamoth 62b (http://halakhah.com/yebamoth/yebamoth_62.html) but couldn’t see any reference to joint souls. The situation regarding the Talmud is not as simple as Helen believes. Most Orthodox Jews believe that the Mishnah is in some way authoritative it being oral tradition handed down from Moses and is based on the Torah arranged by subject. However the Gemara are additional commentaries elaborating the Mishnah which were written down between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE in Jerusalem and Babylon. Together the Mishnah and Gemara comprise the Talmud. The Talmud preserves a variety of views on every issue, and does not always clearly identify which view is the accepted one. Therefore interpreting the Talmud is done by Talmudic scholars.

    @ Helen Tedcastle – “Historical criticism is not the only tool for interpretation of scripture”. It has by no means been my only tool here.

    Helen doesn’t like fundamentalists – “Fundamentalists are people who like many outsiders to traditions, read the Bible literalistically and therefore, either come to literalist conclusions or cannot fathom the beliefs of communities today.” When referring to liberal Christians she also appears to add extreme – “extreme liberal groups”, “There are movements/groups on either extremity of the mainstream – traditionalists and, for want of a better word, liberals”, “extreme ‘liberal’ scholars”.

    Helen – “It is interesting that one of the major criticisms of it (liberal scholarship) is that these scholars read their own presuppositions (from their own time) into the Bible and find what they want to find.” This is wrong in the first instance and a gross exaggeration in the second and I find it offensive if this was applied to me as it was recently by an Anglican vicar when discussing the minimum belief to be a Christian.

    Sometimes Helen and I agree – Nick – “The argument from unjust discrimination holds only if the voluntarist conception of marriage is already accepted.” Helen – “Absolutely right – what legislators are being asked to do is to redefine marriage to reduce it to a univocal meaning – a free, personal commitment.” However we disagree thereafter because she believes that the key constituent of marriage is missing from this definition while I believe that for the majority of the non-religious population of Britain born after 1945 this “voluntarist” definition is how they would define marriage now. Therefore I believe that legislators should change the law so it reflects the beliefs of the majority of the population.

  • Helen Tedcastle 3rd Jun '13 - 10:10am

    @ Amalric: I appreciate the trouble you have taken in your analysis. You are right that I disagree with the fundamentalist and extreme liberal positions (sorry if this is a source of offence, that is not the intention but that is how I read the methodology of historical -criticism as ‘the’ tool of faith rather than ‘a’ tool of faith) – I’m arguing for a balance in the interpretation of scripture, that’s all.

    On voluntaristic marriage – maybe a few polls suggest that is what people want at the moment but Liberal Democrats know that polls are notoriously fickle and it all depends on the questions asked.

    I have never put much store by this ‘being with the tide of history’ argument in relation to gay marriage – this issue came out of nowhere – it wasn’t even in the coalition agreement or the party manifestos! If the ‘ hand of history’ was on our shoulders, it was invisible to the eye and and its voice was on mute. I really do think this issue was generated by Cameron as a way of ‘modernising’ the Tory party – this strategy, if that is what it is, has backfired.

    Maybe that is because civil rights are already won for gay couples. Anyway, it’s for the Lords to debate now.

  • @ Helen Tedcastle

    It is not that you disagree with fundamentalist and liberal Christians, it is the way you refer to them that I have a problem with. I am sure fundamentalists would not regard themselves as “outsiders” and liberal Christians are not necessary extreme and if they are like me they struggle with their conclusions. Both fundamentalist Christians and “extreme” liberal Christians are within the Protestant tradition. Both build on the teachings of Martin Luther but emphasis different aspects. The fundamentalists emphasise the study of the bible; liberal Christians emphasise the enlightenment and the rejection of Catholic tradition. I can agree with Nick Townsend in the sense that the liberal tradition was built on Christianity and the Reformation, however it was not built on the historical traditions of the church.

    I feel strongly that the Christian case for same sex marriage should be made as I once thought that the Christian case for female priests should have been made against 1900 years of church tradition.

  • I’ll take that as having no opinion, then

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